Air Force eyes supply missions for its first electric air taxi – DNyuz

Air Force eyes supply missions for its first electric air taxi

The U.S. Air Force will soon begin testing how it will use battery-powered planes to transport people and cargo.

The service announced Monday that Edwards Air Force Base in California received an electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft from Joby Aviation, part of the company’s $131 million contract with the Air Force’s tech innovation arm, AFWERX.

The aircraft holds one pilot and four passengers, can carry a payload of up to 1,000 pounds, and flies at speeds up to 200 miles per hour, said Greg Bowles, head of government affairs for Joby. It will primarily fly missions between 25 to 50 miles, “but the aircraft has the capability to do a lot more than that,” Bowles told Defense One on Friday.

If the Air Force decides to use the aircraft in operations, it could be to fly cargo and personnel short distances in the Pacific. The Joby aircraft could be helpful within “some of the island clusters that don’t have those large ranges,” said Col. Tom Meagher, AFWERX Prime Division Chief.

“Just-in-time aircraft parts and people for repair are some of the long-term use cases. Meagher suggested that it could be compared to a “hub-and-spoke” type of logistic scenario.

Electric aircraft won’t replace large cargo planes, Meagher said, but could be part of the Air Force’s future logistics fleet.

“I believe the best approach is to ask, “Where can we utilize a capability such as this to compliment our existing platforms? When you only need this type of capability, and not an expensive, high-end platform?”

The Air Force is more interested in electric aircraft than turboprops and jets because of their ease of maintenance. Meagher added that the Joby was quiet because it is designed for use in cities, and commercial environments.

Current electric aircraft batteries don’t enable the planes to fly for long distances, but Meagher said he expects batteries to improve over time, just as they have for electric cars.

“There’s a certain battery energy density and we can get a certain amount of range with those. We expect batteries to continue to prove their energy density over time, just like we’ve seen on the automotive side,” Meagher said.

And the aircraft can recharge quickly: Bowles said it only takes about seven minutes to fully recharge after a 25-mile mission.

The Edwards team will focus on operational testing and are already working on “experimentation plans” for possible uses for the aircraft, said Maj. Phillip Woodhull, director of the Emerging Technologies Integrated Test Force at Edwards.

“Our security forces are drawing up an experimentation plan to see how the Joby aircraft, or eVTOLs in general, could be used to do things like perimeter security functions, things right now where it would take a large amount of time to drive out to with standard vehicles or if you were to try to use other aircraft would be pretty onerous in the training and maintenance and qualification kind of realm,” Woodhull said.

Joby flies its aircraft without anyone onboard, and conducts all flight testing remotely. However, the Air Force says future flights will require pilots. However, Meagher said, the Edwards testing will provide data the service could use for eventual autonomous logistics missions.

The Air Force plans to continue remote-controlled testing through the end of this year before transitioning into manned flight next year.

Edwards is expected to receive an additional Joby eVTOL early in the next year. If all of the contract’s terms are met, up to seven aircraft could be delivered later.

The article Air Force to supply its first electric aircraft first appeared on DefenseOne .