The U.S. Air Force has completed another flight test of an ultralight, electronic vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft in Florida in what the service says is a first step toward incorporating the unmanned aircraft into operations at a military airfield.
The 10-minute flight of LIFT’s Hexa eVTOL occurred recently at Duke Field (KEGI), an auxiliary field for Eglin Air Force Base. Utilizing 18 motors and propellers, the unmanned aircraft was piloted remotely to a height of about 50 feet.
The flight of Hexa 09 aircraft, which is one of two of the LIFT eVTOLs stationed at the military installation, was conducted by the 413th Flight Test Squadron with the support of Air Force eVTOL initiative, Agility Prime. The other aircraft—the Hexa 05—conducted its first flight test in April–also at Eglin.
“This is an opportunity to leverage some of the unit’s expertise with rotary aircraft and apply it to this new field of electric propulsion aircraft,” Maj. Riley Livermore, 413th FLTS Futures Flight commander, said in a statement Thursday. “This flight was an important step in advancing the testing forward.”
The test was also an important first step toward USAF incorporating the Hexa aircraft into operations at a controlled military airfield, according to the service.
In April, USAF awarded the Austin, Texas-based LIFT an experimentation contract to further develop the Hexa, which has been under Air Force contract since 2020. LIFT has also been performing crewed flight tests of full-sized Hexa prototypes since 2018.
The experimentation program is to include flight envelope expansion, acoustics testing, developmental testing of a modular cargo airframe adaptation, as well as operational testing, LIFT said in April.
“This partnership provides continued access to the unmatched expertise of the U.S. Air Force,” LIFT director of business development, Kevin Rustagi, said when the company was awarded the experimentation contract.”We’re excited about continuing to explore and develop a unique capability to the military: an aircraft that offers air mobility at a cost point comparable with ground transportation, that in the future, with mere hours of training, allows any service member to become a pilot.”
The Hexa weighs in at less than 500 pounds because of its airframe made of lightweight, super-strong carbon fiber. According to LIFT, it’s designed to land both on land or water, and is also able to fly and land safely with up to six of its 18 battery-powered motors and proprotors disabled. It also comes with an autonomous ballistic parachute for a worse-case scenario.
After Hexa receives FAA approval, LIFT says its 18-proprotor, amphibious eVTOL won’t require a pilot’s certificate to fly, under the FAA’s powered ultralight classification in FAR Part 103. It has already received initial military airworthiness approval under Agility Prime.
Thom Patterson contributed to this article.