‘Air taxis’ bring new business to Dayton-Springfield region

The BETA Technologies' ALIA-250c. "Our aircraft is the result of the last 3 years of precise design and development," BETA says on its web site. BETA image

Agility Prime at AFRL draws aviation pioneers to Miami Valley.

A pair of companies drawn to the Air Force’s fledgling effort to develop an electric “flying car” are getting settled in the Dayton and Springfield region.

BETA Technologies and Joby Aviation are bringing their “advanced urban air mobility technology” simulators to the area, the Dayton Development Coalition said, drawn by the Air Force’s “Agility Prime” project, spearheaded by the Air Force Research Lab, based at nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

To oversimplify, these are aircraft that are said to require no runways, no airports -- and according to BETA Technologies, no fuel.

Agility Prime is a $35 million program that seeks to develop a commercial market for advanced air mobility aircraft while creating a supply chain to support such vehicles.

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The companies are still working to get their machines operational by early 2021, so there are no air taxis flying in the area yet, a spokeswoman for the coalition cautioned Monday.

The firms have only a small number of employees in the region, according to the coalition. But they are here.

“We are living and breathing Agility Prime here at the DDC (Dayton Development Coalition),” a coalition spokeswoman said.

The coalition maintains that the Dayton-Springfield region is the place to be for this kind of work. Wright-Patterson is here, of course, and Springfield’s airspace has been approved for testing of beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) capabilities for unmanned aircraft.

“Agility Prime is an exciting opportunity for the Air Force to engage with industry and learn about the difficult task of developing electric air taxis,” AFRL commander Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle said in a coalition announcement. “It also paves the way for AFRL and the Ohio community to advance the science and better understand an innovative capability with both military and commercial benefits.”

Air Force leaders watched an eVTOL demonstration at Camp Mabry near Austin Aug. 20 by Lift Aircraft.

Col. Nathan Diller, Agility Prime lead, said the flight marked “the first of many demonstrations and near-term flight tests designed to reduce the technical risk and prepare for Agility Prime fielding in 2023.”

The Air Force in May selected both BETA, based in Vermont, and Joby, of California, to advance to the third phase of the Air Force’s initiative to create the flying cars, or the “commercial electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL)” vehicles, as they’re sometimes called.

Joby Aviation's Aircraft in Santa Cruz, Calif. Joby Aviation image.

Credit: Trevor Jolin

Credit: Trevor Jolin

“Joby Aviation is excited to work closely with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Life Cycle Management Center and the greater Dayton community to bring the reality of advanced air mobility one step closer to reality,” Luke Fischer, Joby Aviation’s head of government operation, said in the coalition’s release.

“Both companies are leaders in advanced air mobility vehicles, commonly known as air taxis,” the coalition said. “The technology is anticipated to revolutionize transportation and spur the growth of a new industry. The simulators allow pilots to gain experience in a controlled environment.”

“BETA is thrilled to shape the bright future of electric aviation in partnership with the USAF and the Dayton community,” said Kyle Clark, president of BETA.

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