The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

U.S. Air Force Selects Small Business Teams For eVTOL R&D Contracts

The U.S. Air Force’s Afwerx innovation and acquisition unit is recommending more than 250 proposals made through its X20D Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Open Topic program. The contracts awarded to the selected teams cover phase one research and development work in support of the Agility Prime initiative to advance possible military applications for new eVTOL aircraft in partnership with the private sector.

Each team consists of a company and a university. The Air Force intends to publish the names of those selected within a few weeks once contracts are finalized. The companies and their academic partners will share more than $38 million in federal funding available under phase one of the STTR program, with each team receiving $150,000.

According to Major Jared Evans, STTR Open Topic program manager with the AFVentures department of Afwerx, the X20D cohort of small businesses is the largest in the program’s three-decade history. Those selected for this Phase One work are eligible for consideration for Phase Two Agility Prime contracts, which can be worth between $750,000 and $1.5 million.

On October 28, the Utah Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Initiative announced that two of its member companies have been awarded STTR grants. ElectraFly, which is developing a new "personal aircraft" had two proposals accepted. The first involves carbon-based additive manufacturing of aircraft parts using a 3D printer developed by its partner Impossible Objects, and with testing to be conducted by Weber State University. The second is for a carbon fiber infusion process developed in conjunction with Hexcel and Brigham Young University.

Separately, multi-physics modeling specialist Analyswift is developing an integrated computational blade engineering framework for rapid insertion of high-performance composite rotor blades to be used on ElectraFly's aircraft. It is also partnered with Hexcel and Weber State University.

The Air Force’s objective for this STTR program is to harness technology being developed for the commercial eVTOL sector to develop airborne vehicles that the service can use to support tasks such as logistics missions, disaster response, and humanitarian aid. The main focus of the work will be on technologies such as autonomous flight systems, advanced aircraft materials and manufacturing, rapid planning for dense air environments and logistics efficiencies, and electrical power storage, generation, and charging.

In a press briefing on October 29, Afwerx director Col. Nathan Diller told reporters that the STTR program is intended to support new areas of research and developed aimed at addressing various technological needs in the supply chain for eVTOL aircraft, such as batteries and microelectronics. It differs from larger Agility Prime contracts, which are largely intended to accelerate existing programs by providing support for work such as flight test evaluation.

“This unprecedented interest demonstrates the value of the STTR program and the energy created when academia, industry, investors, and government unite to accelerate commercialization of transformative technologies,” commented Col. Diller. “While we are pleased to use this as a tool to bolster the workforce of the future and propel research and development in the electric vertical takeoff and landing market, we are even more excited to see what other [Agility] Prime programs might spring from these partnerships.