Region poised to play big role in cutting edge flight technology

Work begins on National Advanced Air Mobility Center of Excellence at Springfield airport.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Local and state officials say the region is poised to play a huge role in what is projected to be a multi-billion dollar industry as the National Advanced Air Mobility Industry Forum wrapped up Tuesday at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport.

The focus of the two-day event was on air mobility technology, including what is known as eVTOLs (electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles) and UAVs (Unmanned Ariel Vehicles). Officials and industry leaders say those types of technology can be used for transportation, delivery of goods and by the military and first responders.

The broad application of this type of technology for both the military and commercial sectors is what makes it so exciting and full of opportunity, especially for the region, said Terry Slaybaugh, the Vice President of Sites and Infrastructure for JobsOhio.

“We are such a technology driven society now. (People) are really hungry for new technology, especially the younger generation. I think this industry is going to benefit from that. I think this generation is going to embrace this technology. They are going to demand it. That is going to help propel it and accelerate it coming into use by society,” Slaybaugh said.

The forum also aimed to connect different facets of the industry together as well as showcase what the region has to offer in terms of research and development. The hope is those efforts will lead to manufacturing opportunities in the area, creating jobs and ushering in new investment.

State leaders say that continued research and development around air mobility will make the region the most logical choice in terms of companies looking to mass produce that technology.

Springfield-Beckley, in particular, benefits from its Ohio Air National Guard presence along with its proximity to institutions such as Wright Patterson Airforce base in the Dayton area. The airport along with the region as a whole has seen continued investment over the years to accommodate the development of air mobility technology and drone development. That includes flight simulators, charging stations and radar systems.

That has helped the region as a whole draw research into that type of technology. The opening of Skyvision at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport in 2019 was a key milestone, allowing Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) researchers to fly drones beyond a controller’s visual line of sight.

The air force has also launched the $35 million program Agility Prime in order to create and speed a commercial market for advanced air mobility aircraft.

With those advancements, the type of research and development taking place locally around that technology has expanded and the possibilities of what those flight technologies can be used for were on display Tuesday.

The last day of the forum saw multiple demonstrations and exhibitions related to the cutting edge flight technology that is being developed. That included advanced navigation systems that would aid pilots who may have to fly over different terrains with limited visibility. That technology was demonstrated in a helicopter that hovered around the airport during the event.

Some companies demonstrated the latest commercial UAVs as well as showcased flight simulators used for the research and development of not only UAVs but other types of flying vehicles.

Most of those aircraft are test aircrafts and have to follow a process before the average pilot can use them. Panels at the forum discussed that process and how larger initiatives, such as those being undertaken by the U.S. Air Force, fit into that. Another panel looked at how that technology can be used by the healthcare sector.

In addition to the growing technology around UAVs that is centered on expanding its applications in both the public and private sectors, eVTOLs are poised to transform transportation as state leaders say these vehicles represent the “the third revolution in flight.”

The latter, also known as air taxis or flying cars, would be flying craft that could take off in helicopter mode, fly in airplane mode then land again in helicopter mode, allowing faster travel in and to urban and suburban areas.

Ground was also broken on Tuesday for the National Advanced Air Mobility Center of Excellence at the Springfield airport. The 30,000 square-foot, two-story building will accommodate university, business and government researchers. The $9.3 million investment will also include 25,000 square feet of hanger space and lead to more companies setting up shop at the airport.

“Springfield and Clark County continues to lead the efforts in the eVTOL industry around this advanced air mobility. We have been progressing and taking the steps necessary to have the infrastructure that can support this industry and we have seen the investment that has spurred,” said Springfield City Manager Bryan Heck.

“This allows us to take that next step around collaboration and cooperation and partnerships forming in this industry to move it and advance it forward,” Heck added.

The center is expected to be operational by the end of 2023.

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