U.S. Air Force Conducts Its First Remotely Piloted eVTOL Flight

A U.S. Air Force pilot remotely controlled the Heaviside on flights at Kitty Hawk’s Palo Alto, California, test site.
Credit: U.S. Air Force

Flight testing of advanced air mobility prototypes under the U.S. Air Force’s Agility Prime program is gathering pace, with the first government remotely piloted flights of an electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) vehicle.

In December, Capt. Terrance McKenna, an Air Force Reserve pilot and test experimentation lead for Agility Prime, flew Kitty Hawk’s Heaviside as remote pilot in control. In partnership with Agility Prime, Kitty Hawk is developing a training syllabus for the single-seat, tilt-prop eVTOL aircraft.

The Air Force granted the 880-lb. gross-weight Heaviside airworthiness approval for unmanned flights in July 2021. In November, the Heaviside conducted its first beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flight at the Agility Prime test hub at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport in Ohio.

Billed as the first remotely controlled BVLOS flight in non-restricted airspace by an eVTOL company, Kitty Hawk used the SkyVision ground-based detect-and-avoid system, developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory and Ohio Department of Transportation, to fly the Heaviside alongside manned traffic.

Kitty Hawk’s Heaviside. Credit: U.S. Air Force

The Air Force’s AFWerx innovation unit is looking at potential use of the 180-mph-cruise, 100-mi.-range Heaviside for autonomous missions such as casualty evacuation and recovery of downed aircrew. Kitty Hawk is using its Agility Prime contract to advance testing required to achieve FAA Part 23 certification of the eVTOL.

Agility Prime also has flight-test agreements with eVTOL developers Joby Aviation, Beta Technologies, Lift Aircraft, Elroy Air, Archer Aviation and Sabrewing Aircraft. Joby has added a second prototype of its S4 tilt-prop eVTOL that will be dedicated to testing under its Agility Prime contract.

Graham Warwick

Graham leads Aviation Week's coverage of technology, focusing on engineering and technology across the aerospace industry, with a special focus on identifying technologies of strategic importance to aviation, aerospace and defense.