US Air Force performed first flights of a government remotely piloted eVTOL

The United States Air Force (USAF) has reported that the first flights of an electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle (eVTOL) piloted remotely by the government were successful. The Heaviside series aircraft, manufactured by the Kitty Hawk company, flew in a training session held in Palo Alto, California, between December 13 and 17, 2021.

As part of complex eVTOL pilot remote control training, Captain Terrence McKenna, USAF reserve pilot, practiced a variety of maneuvers from takeoff and landing, auto-hover and manual flight, to fixed-wing flight and transitions to vertical flight. . The experienced pilot of manned aircraft such as the C-5 Galaxy and T-38 Talon assisted the Kitty Hawk team in product refinement and training procedures.

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Equipped with eight variable-pitch electric propellers, the Heaviside can reach 289 km/h while also offering a range of 160 km on a single charge. The maximum take-off weight of this aircraft is approximately 399 kg, allowing for a passenger of up to approximately 80 kg.

Flying remotely and silently

eVTOL flying remotely
Image: Disclosure / United States Air Force

However, the US Air Force claims that the most significant thing is that Kitty Hawk's eVTOL remains silent: only about 35 decibels at 1,500 feet above ground level – which is a little louder than a whisper and about 100 times quieter than a helicopter. In addition, Heaviside demonstrated 237 transitions between hovering and forward flying.

Kitty Hawk has refined its use of automated flight capabilities through its Ground Control Station, or GCS; engineers can upload a flight plan, telling the vehicle to fly to certain locations. With this, Heaviside can perform the entire flight profile without human intervention.

The Buddy Box feature

However, a standout training feature on the Heaviside is the Buddy Box setup (pretty much a secondary remote connected to a primary controller). This system is intended for an instructor and a student acting as an external pilot in manual flight mode; the trainee handles and operates the aircraft while the instructor provides supervision and support.

More or less like in a driving school car. That is, the student operates the eVTOL under the supervision of the instructor, who can override any direction when necessary or in an emergency from the primary controller.

Technicians responsible for the first eVTOL flights
Image: Disclosure / United States Air Force

According to the US Air Force's official statement, Kitty Hawk is currently working with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on certification of the Heaviside. While the USAF plans to deploy eVTOL in fully automated mode in the near future, to be remotely piloted in its actions.

As a military air vehicle, the aircraft could become essential for tasks such as transporting the wounded, evacuating from hostile environments, emergency deliveries, firefighting and much more.

Founded a decade ago by Sebastian Thrun and supported by Google co-founder Larry Paige, California-based Kitty Hawk developed Heaviside as a result of several earlier prototypes. It then partnered with the USAF through the Agility Prime program.

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