The U.S. Air Force has contracted with Jump Aero to use its JA1 eVTOL technology demonstrator to calibrate navigational aids and instrument landing systems. The work will be conducted under a Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) research contract in conjunction with Oklahoma State University’s Unmanned Systems Research Institute. It is part of the Air Force’s Agility Prime program to advance dual-use civil and military applications for new advanced air mobility vehicles.
The California-based start-up is developing an all-electric eVTOL aircraft specifically for emergency medical support operations. It will be used primarily to get first responders to the scene of an emergency.
The company believes the aircraft could also meet the needs of various defense applications as well as functions such as the work covered by the new SBTT contract, for which a value has not been disclosed. For the calibration tasks, the JA1 will be operated autonomously without a pilot on board.
Oklahoma State University has worked with the FAA’s Flight Inspection Division to explore the potential for unmanned aircraft to be used in conjunction with software-defined radios to reduce the cost of navaid/ILS inspections. Currently, the task is conducted with larger, piloted aircraft that have to be equipped with a lot of instruments.
According to Jump Aero, its aircraft will also be a better option than using existing drones since these generally need the runway to be closed to other traffic while they make the necessary final approaches. It says the JA1 can fly the approaches at speeds that would enable seamless integration with existing air traffic at the airports where tests are conducted.
Phase 1 of the contract is already underway, focusing on the design and simulation of the planned calibration process. By the fourth quarter of 2021, Jump intends to be testing the hardware to be used for the flights, which will be conducted at locations that have yet to be disclosed.
Jump Aero was formed in January 2020 by Carl Dietrich, who was previously a founder of flying-car pioneer Terrafugia, which he sold to China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group. It says that first response times could be almost cut in half using eVTOL aircraft instead of ambulances.
Co-founder Katerina Barilov told FutureFlight that the company is finalizing the design for the aircraft and that it will not be releasing any preliminary concepts for now. It is also not publishing a projected timeline for getting the aircraft certified but says that it has sufficient funding to complete the initial design over the next year or so. This process involves discussions with prospective customers and also with the FAA and other authorities.
“This concept will continue to undergo simulated flight testing in parallel with subscale and benching testing,” she explained. “Lessons learned will be incorporated into the design of the full-scale aircraft.”
Last year, Dietrich indicated that he expects the aircraft to operate with small 18kW battery packs that can be charged via domestic power supplies. The Jump team foresees the small-scale aircraft being parked right outside EMS operating bases, from which pilot-paramedics can quickly scramble for short flights to the scene of an incident.