Springfield site to help launch flying cars, Air Force research

A modular building and re-charging station in Springfield will boost progress toward viable electric flying cars — and a new industry built around those vehicles, Air Force and private advocates said Thursday at a virtual “groundbreaking” for the building at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport.

“We’re fascinated by the prospect of flying cars,” said Brig Gen. Heather Pringle, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which is supporting the development of the vehicles.

The groundbreaking was captured virtually as part of a week-long series of events conducted by AFWERX, an Air Force organization focused on bringing cutting edge technological ideas to reality.

“We could potentially help revolutionize transportation,” Air Force Col. Nathan Diller, director of AFWERX, said Thursday, the fourth day of the AFWERX’ “Accelerate” event.

“You are literally seeing a new market emerge,” said Will Roper, Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics.

The event showed a recharging station for the vehicles at the Springfield airport, part of a network of charging stations, mostly in the Northeast, that will help the vehicles on longer journeys, said Kyle Clark, CEO of BETA Technologies.

The building will be used by BETA Technologies and Joby Aviation, two pioneers in the field of electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, which are envisioned at least in some cases as flying possibly without pilots.

The new Springfield facility will speed the Air Force’s exploration of these vehicles, a project called “Agility Prime.”

Both BETA, based in Vermont, and Joby, based in Northern California, are deep into “advanced air mobility vehicles,” also known as “air taxis.”

The Air Force launched the $35 million Agility Prime program, seeking to create and speed a market for advanced air mobility aircraft while creating a supply chain to support their production.

The Air Force is working with those start-ups and others in an effort to refine the idea of flying cars. “How do we get (flight) autonomy and how do we get to longer ranges,” Diller said.

Joeben Bevirt, founder and CEO of Joby Aviation, said the work the Air Force is supporting should deliver “incredibly transformative results for everyone in the world.”

He said the Springfield simulator will give pilots the ability to experience firsthand what it’s like to fly these aircraft.

Bevirt also talked about the possibility of using the craft to fight wildfires. They can also be purpose-built for carrying cargo and passengers, he said.

“We can do really transformative things,” he said.

The Springfield airport is also already home to an effort to research use of drones beyond a drone pilot’s visual line of sight.

The goal is for the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration to help U.S. manufacturers capture a share of this new market, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited Diller.

It wasn’t immediately clear Thursday when construction was expected to begin.

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