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Air Force tech competition gives a lift to concepts for fast and furious ‘flying cars’

Artist’s conception shows an aircraft that makes use of Jetoptera’s propulsion system. (Jetoptera Illustration)
Artist’s conception shows an aircraft that makes use of Jetoptera’s propulsion system. (Jetoptera Illustration)

The U.S. Air Force’s tech incubator has given the go-ahead for 11 design concepts aimed at pushing the frontier for aircraft that can take off and land vertically — and at least two of the concepts have roots in the Seattle area.

Among the teams selected to advance in AFWERX’s High-Speed VTOL Concept Challenge are Jetoptera, based in Edmonds, Wash.; and VerdeGo Aero, which is based in Florida but has Bainbridge Island’s Erik Lindbergh as co-founder and executive chairman. Lindbergh is the grandson of aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh.

AFWERX’s challenge focuses on technologies that the military could use in VTOLs — vertical takeoff-and-landing aircraft that could include next-generation helicopters and other types of vehicles popularly known as “flying cars.” The challenge is being conducted for the Air Force as well as the U.S. Special Operations Command.

The winning teams were chosen from more than 200 entrants in the challenge. Over the next six months, the 11 teams will receive market research investments aimed at advancing their technologies.

Jetoptera is working with Northrop Grumman and Pratt & Whitney on an adaptive fluidic propulsion system that directs the flow of air over the flight surfaces of an aircraft in a controlled way. The team proposes building a VTOL demonstrator that could be tested in 2025 time frame.

In a news release, Jetoptera CEO Andrei Evulet said support from the AFWERX challenge will help “bring the best technologies faster to the warfighter.”

VerdeGo Aero won support for its hybrid-electric powerplant technology. In the months ahead, VerdeGo will work closely with the challenge’s winning airframe bidders to refine their requirements for propulsion systems.

“VerdeGo is excited to be moving forward with the early stages of developing a large-scale turbine hybrid power plant for high-performance applications,” Lindbergh told GeekWire in an email.

An illustration highlights VerdeGo Aero’s propulsion system in Jaunt Air Mobility’s VTOL craft. (VerdeGo Image)
An illustration highlights VerdeGo Aero’s propulsion system in Jaunt Air Mobility’s VTOL craft. (VerdeGo Image)

Other winners in Phase I of AFWERX’s challenge include Transcend Air, Valkyrie Systems Aerospace and Jaunt Air Mobility (which is already one of VerdeGo Aero’s development partners).

Reid Melville, chief innovation officer for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Transformational Capabilities Office, said the AFWERX challenge “has surfaced an impressive range and caliber of solutions to help us understand how to build a new class of air vehicles.”

“We believe the organizations selected to receive market research investments at this stage have the potential to deliver truly groundbreaking innovation,” Melville said in a statement.

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