U.S. Air Force Takes First Step Toward Adding Flying Cars to Its Aircraft Inventory

U.S. Air Force Takes First Step Toward Adding Flying Cars to Its Aircraft Inventory
Production prototype of Terrafugia Transition at N.Y. Int’l Auto Show in April 2012 – Credits: Terrafugia_–_2012_

The U.S. Air Force has made the first move to potentially bring non-traditional “flying car”-type aircraft into its inventory. The U.S. Air Force has officially started its search for a “flying car” able to speedily shuttle troops and equipment into war zones.

On Feb. 25, the service released a solicitation for Agility Prime, its effort to explore commercial advances in electronic vertical-takeoff-and-landing technologies, otherwise known as eVTOL.

“Now’s the perfect time to make ‘Jetsons’ cars real,” Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper told reporters during a briefing last Friday.

In a presolicitation notice, the government’s acquisition and awards website, beta.sam.gov, the service said it is seeking prototypes that include “emerging electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing technologies (eVTOL) and urban/advanced air mobility (UAM/AAM) aircraft,” as well as other alternatives for its Agility Prime program.

Agility Prime, under the purview of the Air Force Research Lab at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, aims to leverage commercial advancements in this field.

“As these systems mature toward certified commercial operations, the government will identify opportunities for early adoption, with the potential for procurement and fielding in the next three years,” the solicitation reads.

Officials at Air Force Materiel Command refer to the vehicles as “ORBs,” or organic resupply buses.

ORBs are not necessarily “drones, cars, helicopters, trucks, airplanes, motorcycles, or SUVs, but might support similar missions,” or encompass a mix of these roles, the notice states.

“Given their flexibility, an ORB could act as an organic resupply bus for disaster relief teams, an operational readiness bus for improved aircraft availability, and an open requirements bus for a growing diversity of missions,” according to the notice.

The solicitation follows years of interest from the U.S. military, with the potential to someday replace the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft for transport and resupply to the battlefield.

For example, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) embarked on a similar effort, known as Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) in 2014, according to Scientific American magazine.

The special operations community discussed a tailored concept in 2016. SOF units spoke with Uber executive Mark Moore, director of engineering for aviation at the ride-sharing company and a former NASA engineer, about “an ultra-low noise insertion” vehicle to get troops safely in and out of war zones, according to DefenseOne.

Although the Air Force has a keen interest in Agility Prime, it did not request money for the program in FY21, Aviation Week reported. Rather, the service will use previously appropriated funds — $10 million in FY19 and $25 million in FY20 — to start the effort, and it plans to request more funds in FY22, Diller said.

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