Heaviside becomes fourth eVTOL to receive military airworthiness approval
America's technological leadership is now viewed as an urgent matter of national security, and to make sure the country keeps its edge, the US Military is mustering its impressive resources to accelerate development on a range of commercial tech products that could keep the USA ahead of the game.
The AFWERX Prime programs are designed explicitly to "prime" and accelerate emerging commercial markets, using military missions and equities, as well as test infrastructure, certification authorities, inter-agency relationships and early operational use cases.
The first of these to roll out is Agility Prime, a play to ensure American eVTOL companies hit the market harder, faster and earlier than anyone else – but further Prime programs are planned to accelerate new tech in the energy, space, autonomy, gaming, supersonics and microelectronics sectors. If America has the technological edge, the theory goes, prosperity will follow, and the enormous US war machine will continue to get fed. Plus, there will be less potentially dangerous foreign technology around that might be weaponized in an "unrestricted warfare" scenario.
Four American eVTOL companies have received military airworthiness approval through Agility Prime: Joby Aviation, Beta Technologies, Lift Aircraft, and most recently Kitty Hawk, whose Heaviside aircraft has just been accepted.
The Heaviside is a two-seat electric plane with a reverse-sweep wing and a small canard. It uses eight tilting props – six along the main wing and two on the canard – to achieve vertical lift in a vectored thrust design. Interestingly, the props tilt to face downwards rather than upwards during VTOL. Where a runway is available, it's able to save energy using conventional takeoff and landing.
Range is over 100 miles (161 km), with significant reserves remaining, and the top speed is around 180 mph (290 km/h). It makes one hundredth the noise of a helicopter – just 38 dBA at 1,000-ft (305-m) altitudes, and in efficiency terms, Kitty Hawk says it uses less than half the energy per mile of a typical electric car.
Kitty Hawk demonstrated the Heaviside for the Agility Prime team in May, running mock medical evacuation and logistics drills and demonstrating fully autonomous and remotely-piloted use cases. Colonel Don Haley, Commander of Air Education and Training Command Detachment 62, stated “this collaborative commercial/DoD use-case exploration revealed common attributes that serve both urban air mobility and search and rescue operations: High-reliability, responsive launch & recovery, minimal logistical footprint, accessibility for mobility-challenged, low acoustic signature, and high levels of autonomy.”
Will this thing be useful to the military in the short term? It doesn't really matter. AFWERX director Colonel Nathan Diller told Janes the military airworthiness approval will allow the US Air Force to start paying Kitty Hawk for test flights in a range of different scenarios, giving the company a nice little revenue stream and a chance to expand its thinking on how the aircraft might be used. This is a remote operations approval, so it won't initially be for manned flights.
Military airworthiness is an opportunity to get eVTOLs built and into some form of service long before they're certified with civil aviation authorities. It'll be interesting to see how support from the Agility Prime program affects the overall progress of the companies chosen.
Check out a video detailing the Heaviside aircraft below.