The goal is to have a fully operational flying car fleet by 2023.
Agility Prime is the U.S. Air Force’s new commercial development program for flying cars. In part, the Air Force wants to create a healthy domestic industry for the vehicles to keep abreast of security concerns.
By 2023, the Air Force hopes to have an operational fleet of the vehicles.
It feels like the U.S. has been on the brink of a flying car revolution for half a century. Every so often, a company claims to be just two or three years away from the perfect avian vehicle. In 2011, it was rumored that a company called Terrafugia would have $227,000 flying cars “in a matter of months,” and even Uber has promised to have autonomous flyers by 2023.
One thing these efforts have in common? They never come to fruition. And the Air Force is tired of waiting, so its launching Agility Prime, a new research and development program that seeks to “accelerate the commercial market for advanced air mobility vehicles,” according to its website.
The Long, Weird History of the Flying Car
“With over 200 companies leveraging advances from hybrid and electric cars to create affordable ‘electric vertical takeoff and landing’ (eVTOL) systems, a radical transportation future is not too far fetched, nor too far away,” Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, wrote in a Wired op-ed. “Especially if the Air Force helps precipitate it.”
Roper says that because some 80 percent of R&D funding goes to the private sector, often side-stepping the Pentagon, new technologies can imperil national security. He cites China’s takeover of the drone industry as one example, which has left the government scrambling. Earlier this year, the Department of Interior grounded almost the entirety of the U.S. drone fleet due to security concerns.
If the military would have provided funding for drone development, Roper muses, it’s possible a domestic industry could have emerged, thereby avoiding this “cautionary tale.” He hopes the Agility Prime program will help ensure the same mistakes aren’t repeated with flying cars.
Agility Prime, which launched on Monday, is leveraging Air Force assets—from test ranges, to safety certifications, to military missions that can log long flight hours—to prove out the tech, appeal to investors, and “hopefully expedite domestic commercialization,” according to Roper.
Considering the Pentagon is responsible for innovation staples that run the gamut from GPS and voice assistants to nuclear energy and even an early version of the internet, the idea that the Air Force could usher in flying cars for real this time isn’t so far-fetched.
This week, Agility Prime has been hosting a series of live-fly challenges, meant to bring together companies and investors. These so-called “Air Races” are meant to show off current prototype vehicles that could perform in military missions. These events will continue through May 1 and you can catch those live streams here.
The Air Force Is Starting to Rethink Its Air Bases
In the first solicitation, the Air Force called for vehicles that can carry three to eight people at speeds greater than 100 miler per hour and with the ability to continuously fly for over one hour, with a range of more than 100 miles. The goal is to realize full-scale flights by December 17 of this year, and a full air fleet by 2023.
“Air Force hallways in the Pentagon are lined with pictures of groundbreaking aircraft: from the Wright Brothers’ cloth and wood designs, to the sleek jets that thundered past the sound barrier, to the stealthy weapons systems that dominate the skies today,” Roper said.