‘Flying cars’ make Springfield-Dayton region their home

The Beta Technologies electric vertical aircraft simulator in action Wednesday at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF
Caption
The Beta Technologies electric vertical aircraft simulator in action Wednesday at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

‘This is clearly the future,’ said BETA Technologies test pilot

Springfield has quickly become a hub for so-called flying cars, making it “the Huffman Prairie of the 21st century,” with five companies developing the new mode of transportation for military and civilian use.

Vermont-based BETA Technologies; California’s Joby Aviation; New York- and Cincinnati-based Moog Inc.; Austin, Texas-based LIFT Aircraft; and Palo Alto, California-based Kitty Hawk, founded by Google co-founder Larry Page, all have a presence in Springfield or are establishing one.

They are refining electric vehicles called eVTOL that can take off and land vertically in cities and battlefields, flying with — and in at least one case, without — a pilot, carrying passengers and cargo or both.

The Ohio Advanced Air Mobility Showcase at the Springfield Airport on Wednesday was originally set for 50 participants. It drew more than 200.

Luke Stedke, a spokesman for DriveOhio, a state partnership of government and private partners, drew the comparison to the prairie where the Wright Brothers perfected their aircraft.

“This is the future of air mobility in one room,” Stedke said, referring to a section of SelectTech GeoSpatial’s facility that was standing room only.

A trio of advanced air mobility vehicles at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport Wednesday. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF
Caption
A trio of advanced air mobility vehicles at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport Wednesday. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

Among Wednesday’s participants was Jeffrey Bennett, project manager for Moog.

Bennett said one reason he’s in Springfield is because the airport in 2019 won Federal Aviation Administration certification for beyond-visual-line-of-sight drone flight testing.

The state and the Dayton Development Coalition for years pursued the certification, which allows operation of a drone beyond a pilot’s ability to see the unmanned craft, without a chase plane following or observing.

Bennett said he can perform manned air mobility tests at Lunken Airport in Cincinnati, no higher than 10 feet above ground.

“Here at Springfield, we plan on expanding that envelope, going much higher and faster, and ultimately going beyond line of sight,” he said. “We could not do that (at Lunken).”

Springfield is one of just 19 sites in the U.S. where BETA has built an elevated landing platform, where pilots can recharge vehicles and themselves, said Camron Guthrie, a BETA test pilot.

The company also has an immersive simulator right next to the landing platform, where pilots can be trained.

“This is it right here; we demonstrated it today — how to train collaboratively, long-haul, and then there’s an office compound right outside,” Guthrie said. “It’s really an exciting beachhead here in Ohio.”

“It’s not just the aircraft,” said Chris Anderson, chief operating officer of Kitty Hawk. “It’s the eco-system. It’s the pilot training, it’s manufacturing, it’s the (craft-)charging network, we have efforts running in parallel in all of those directions simultaneously, and this is just a fantastic location where any of these efforts are ongoing.

“It’s going to take all of those working together to make this a reality,” he added.

Count Davis Hackenberg, advanced air mobility mission manager for NASA, is a fan of Springfield.

“This is the one place I can point to ... that’s moved the farthest and the fastest,” he said.

The Air Force’s “Agility Prime” project to perfect these vehicles is less than two years old but has already seen four vehicles win air worthiness certification, said James Bieryla, deputy director of Air Force research outfit AFWERX.

The vehicles are drawing the interest of the Army, the Marine Corps, the FAA and others, he said.

“This is a whole-of-nation program,” Bieryla said.

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