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Airmen fly HEXA for first time

  • Published
  • By Samuel King Jr.

The Lift HEXA, an electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, lifted off at Duke Field Nov. 16 for a routine flight, only this sortie was piloted by Airmen.

For the first time here, Airmen remotely controlled the aircraft during multiple take offs, flights and landings.  This was an early step in creating a training program to incorporate Airmen into the aircraft’s flight operations.

The goal training the Airmen was twofold.  The first was to validate the HEXA’s training program by having the Airmen execute it in a controlled, test environment.  The second was to serve as a proof of concept for how to develop responsive training for government operators on uncrewed EVTOL aircraft.  With more uncrewed cargo EVTOLs on the way, the overall goal is to field the systems as soon as they are ready.

“Successfully completing this training is a huge milestone and confidence boost to allow us to meet this challenge,” said Maj. Riley Livermore, 413th FLTS Futures Flight commander. 

The three Airmen, an officer and a senior NCO from the 413th Flight Test Squadron and a senior NCO from Air Education and Training Command’s Detachment 62, have background in rotary wing aircraft. 

"Our team's prior rotary wing experience gave us a framework of reference to work from regarding aerodynamics that apply to vertical takeoff and lift aircraft, crew resource management, and general flight operations at a military airfield,” said Maj. Victoria Snow, a 413th FLTS helicopter pilot who participated in the HEXA training.  “Even though the technology is vastly different, understanding the mechanics of helicopter flying translates well to operating the HEXA."

The team began with classroom and simulator training before getting behind the controls of the HEXA aircraft during the two-week familiarization. 

The flight requires a two-person team.  One person controls the movement of the aircraft, while the other monitors the aircraft systems, batteries, outside variables, etc.

"My first flight experience was both rewarding and insightful,” said Snow, who has been observing and advising on HEXA test operations since March. “Getting the chance to fly the HEXA gave me a deeper understanding of the system's innerworkings and an understanding of how stable and responsive the HEXA aircraft is and of its possible future capabilities."

The 413th FLTS, along with AFWERX’s Agility Prime manage the EVTOL test and experimentation here.  The unit, located at Duke Field, provides the coordination, logistics and support for the Lift team’s developmental ground and flight-testing operations.

The goal of this Air Force and civilian partnership is to leverage the industry’s commercial investment and innovation to effectively satisfy military use cases.

“By helping these companies reach their commercial goals, we can learn from this technology and transition it for possible military use,” said Livermore.