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Two years ago, the U.S. Air Force launched its Agility Prime program with the aim of fielding its first advanced air mobility aircraft in 2023. Last week, the service achieved a major milestone toward that goal when Air Force pilots flew Beta Technologies’ electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, Alia, for the first time.

In separate flights of just under an hour on March 9, USAF pilots Hank “Hog” Griffiths and Major Jonathan Appleby put Alia through its paces alongside Beta test pilots Lochie Ferrier and Camron Guthrie. Although the flights took place in conventional take-off and landing (airplane) mode with Alia’s overhead lifting propellers removed, the demonstrations marked a significant vote of confidence in Beta as the Air Force’s first crewed flight tests with an Agility Prime partner.

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“The Air Force I don’t think would have allowed us to go fly something if it was in a stage that they weren’t comfortable with,” Appleby told The Air Current after his flight. “And in order to determine that state, we had a lot of people within the Air Force Research Lab and external parties come together and do a safety review board to analyze the airworthiness, the profiles that we were going to do, assess everything.”

The Air Force has already awarded more than $100 million in contracts through Agility Prime, but it’s not a typical military procurement program. Rather, it’s an experiment in using military resources to help seed an emerging industry that could have strategic value for the U.S. As a stakeholder, it’s an evolution of how the Air Force ushered in the commercial jet age by laying the foundation for jet propulsion on strategic bombers and tankers in the post-World War II era.

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As Senior Editor, Elan spearheads The Air Current’s coverage of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, along with a focus on emerging sustainable technologies. A commercially-rated helicopter pilot and FAA Gold Seal flight instructor, Head brings a unique vantage point to explore this critical new sector.

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