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AFWERX Prime, FAA agree to share flight-test information

  • Published
  • By Tim Tresslar
  • Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs

DUKE FIELD, Fla. (AFRL) – AFWERX Prime and the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, announced they have agreed to share flight-test data to accelerate the safe integration of Advanced Aircraft Mobility, or AAM, platforms into the National Airspace System, or NAS, Oct. 25, 2023.  

The Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, will also support AFWERX Prime’s efforts to advance the integration and maturation of AAM, including the electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft and autonomous systems industries. Prime, a division within AFWERX, aims to accelerate emerging commercial markets by leveraging government resources for rapid and affordable fielding, benefiting both the commercial industrial base and U.S. military capabilities. 

The agreement was signed by Col. Elliott Leigh, AFWERX director and chief commercialization officer for the Department of the Air Force, and John Maffei, the FAA’s acting director of Portfolio Management and Technology Development, during an event at Duke Field, Florida. 

Leigh noted that, during the past three years, AFWERX has awarded more than $345 million in contracts to 36 developers of electric aircraft and related technologies as part of the national AAM strategy. With the DAF investments, certifications, limited partnership agreements and testing, this effort has generated more than $11 billion in commercial investment in the AAM sector. 

According to Leigh, now is the time to redouble these efforts not only with the FAA, but also with other federal partners in this space. 

“With this MOU and the ongoing AAM Interagency Working Group, we are accelerating a breakthrough in electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft,” Leigh said. “We are driving progress in propulsion technology, in manufacturing and materials, and in test and safety for a novel class of air vehicles. Keeping this effort rooted in the United States, building our national security and accelerating innovation for our Airmen and Guardians are all crucial for the Air Force, and we are humbled to be a part of this historic effort. I am excited about this industry’s direction and the Air Force’s role in shaping it.” 

The MOU will enable the DAF, AFWERX and the FAA to exchange data and share capabilities and expertise needed to test these technologies. The data will inform FAA certification efforts, policy, standards and future airspace integration requirements. 

“A new era of aviation is taking off and safe and efficient operations require collaboration,” Maffei said. “This data will help inform FAA certification efforts, policies, standards and future airspace integration requirements.” 

The new agreement showed the continued commitment by the Defense Department and the FAA to ensure all aviation conducted in the NAS meets the highest levels of safety and security, said Darshan Divakaran, AFWERX head of Airspace Innovation and Prime Partnerships. The NAS is a complex system composed of aircraft, airports, airspace, communication, individual pilots, policies, navigation and regulations working in these areas. 

Divakaran added that the agreement establishes a unique approach to integrated testing and data sharing that will not only ensure airspace safety , but also help accelerate  development of U.S.-built aircraft, supporting infrastructure and regulatory policy needed for successful integration of AAM. 

“This MOU is a big step for the future of AAM and provides industry and investors the confidence needed to accelerate forward,” Divakaran said. “This partnership validates why the DOD created the AFWERX Agility Prime program to focus on AAM and dual-use technology.” 

In July, the FAA released an implementation plan detailing the steps it and others will need to take to safely enable advanced air mobility operations in the near term. The “Innovate28”, or I28, plan includes various components and the sequence they will follow for operations to reach scale at one or more sites by 2028.   

FAA officials added the partnership with AFWERX and the MOU supports the I28 initial entry into service objectives and future phases as defined in the FAA Urban Air Mobility Concept of Operations. 

About AFRL   

The Air Force Research Laboratory 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 12,500 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  

About AFWERX  

As the innovation arm of the DAF and a directorate within the Air Force Research Laboratory, AFWERX brings cutting-edge American ingenuity from small businesses and start-ups to address the most pressing challenges of the DAF. AFWERX employs approximately 325 military, civilian and contractor personnel at six hubs and sites executing an annual $1.4 billion budget. Since 2019, AFWERX has executed 4,697 contracts worth more than $2.6 billion to strengthen the U.S. defense industrial base and drive faster technology transition to operational capability. For more information, visit:  

About the FAA 

The FAA manages the world’s safest and most complex aviation system. On an average day, it serves more than 45,000 flights and 2.9 million airline passengers across more than 29 million square miles of airspace. Its continuing mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world. The FAA strives to reach the next level of safety and efficiency and to demonstrate global leadership in how it safely integrates new users and technologies into the aviation system.