WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio (AFRL) --
AFWERX representatives from all divisions attended the Association for Uncrewed Vehicles Systems International (AUVSI) XPONENTIAL 2022, an advanced air mobility convention in Orlando, Florida, April 25-28 with an estimated 6,500 attendees.
The annual convention, celebrating its 50th anniversary, focused on the theme “Where Autonomy Meets Society,” a key objective addressed by Agility Prime’s mission to accelerate emerging markets by teaming government resources with commercial ventures. Over 500 vendors gathered in the exhibition space, while over 200 panels, sessions and workshops were attended by various stakeholders including international companies; large and small businesses; electric vertical take-off and landing, or eVTOL developers; the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, and other regulators.
The AFWERX booth also featured Agility Prime partners Talyn Air and Elroy Air, companies developing eVTOL aircraft on contract with AFWERX. Agility Prime representatives interacted with multiple companies in attendance, expanding their industry engagement and exploring new areas, such as autonomy approaches, hydrogen and other power sources for next generation systems.
Day One began with an operations panel discussion on autonomy sponsored by the Vertical Flight Society. Sterling Alley, Agility Prime program manager and technology transition lead, briefed Agility Prime goals, statistics, and potential use cases, responding to questions about how the Air Force can help advance vertical flight by partnering with small businesses to breach the valley of death.
“It’s this continuous iterative cycle of engaging the warfighters, understanding their needs, modeling those needs against the aircraft, and testing it in the real world, so we can do that learning and prove the use cases,” Alley said to describe the Agility Prime process.
“The biggest obstacle we face is our mentality. We have trained ourselves to be accepting to a 15-year cycle for the development of capabilities,” said Alley. “Agility Prime is here to show that all those boundaries we place on ourselves can be overcome to field a capability in three years.”
AFWERX Senior Manager of Strategic Innovation and Partnerships Darshan Divakaran moderated a panel entitled ‘How Industry and Academia can Partner with the USAF’ with Verenice Mondragon-Jaimes from the Spark division, Nicole Quattrociocchi from Orbital Prime and SpaceWERX and Maj. James Colraine from AFVentures.
“The whole idea is using capital as a capability to try to make the acquisition process quicker,” Colraine said of the AFWERX approach through AFVentures, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) arm of the organization.
The panelists also discussed the open topic approach, a model that loosens proposal requirements, allowing small businesses to provide creative solutions to Air Force problems.
“We’re not going to be so prescriptive of the solutions we’re looking at,” Quattrociocchi said. “We want industry to bring their best ideas to us.”
Divakaran also moderated a panel discussion on Air Force partnerships and the future of advanced air mobility and autonomy with Prime Division Chief Lt. Col. Thomas Meagher, AFRL Autonomy Technical Adviser Jean-Charles Ledé and NASA Aeronautics Research Institute Director Parimal Kopardekar. Meagher briefed the Prime mission, touching on key milestones since Agility Prime’s launch in 2020.
“We want commercial success, but we want to figure out how to use [these technologies] from the DOD perspective as well,” said Meagher. “At this point, we have four different companies that have gone through the airworthiness process, and that’s important, because it really highlights the ability to transition some of those lessons learned and approaches to future FAA certification.”
Meagher also emphasized the stand-up of Detachment 62 alongside the Air Education Training Command as a major step in Agility Prime’s progress.
“No matter what we do on the technology development side, if we don’t have the people or the processes in place to actually certify people to use them, we will be at a significant disadvantage to see if they’re actually feasible throughout the operations we want to use them for.”
On the final day of the convention, Divakaran was awarded Chapter Leader of the Year, recognized among 35 chapters worldwide. Divakaran founded the North Carolina branch of AUVSI in 2019 and has since served as its chapter president. Additionally, he has been affiliated with the AUVSI organization as a speaker since 2017.
“It is an honor and also incredibly gratifying to be acknowledged for my efforts among my peers,” Divakaran said. “The chapter has been in existence for only three years, but has received five awards so far. This shows leadership, team effort and consistency.”
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,000 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit: www.afresearchlab.com.
AFWERX, a program office at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), connects innovators across government, industry and academia. Through innovation and collaboration with our nation’s top subject-matter experts and harnessing the power of ingenuity of internal talent, by expanding technology, talent, and transition partnerships for rapid and affordable commercial and military capability. In 2020, Fast Company ranked AFWERX #16 of Best Workplaces for Innovators, alongside brands such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon. Additional information is available at: https://www.afwerx.af.mil/
About Agility Prime
The Air Force recently launched Agility Prime, a non-traditional program seeking to accelerate the commercial market for advanced air mobility vehicles. Leveraging unique testing resources and revenue generating government use cases for distributed logistics and disaster response, the government plans to mitigate current commercial market and regulatory risks. Agility Prime also aims to bring together industry, investor, and government communities to establish safety and security standards while accelerating commercialization of this revolutionary technology. Additional information is available at: https://agilityprime.com/