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LIFT Aircraft advances to Phase 3 contract with US Air Force

LIFT Aircraft Co. has been awarded a U.S. Air Force contract to continue experimentation and flight test efforts around its HEXA copter.

LIFT Aircraft Co. has been awarded a Phase 3 contract through the U.S. Air Force’s Agility Prime Program to continue experimentation and flight test efforts around HEXA, LIFT’s all-electric, single-seat vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft.

Since 2020, LIFT Aircraft has conducted flight testing with the support of the U.S. Air Force under a Phase 2 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract.

Working with Air Force subject-matter experts, LIFT achieved initial military airworthiness approval (military flight release) and proven transportability by moving the aircraft inside a C-130 military cargo plane. The company also explored a multitude of potential use-cases alongside the Agility Prime Test Team.

The Phase 3 contract will continue experimentation and use-case development through a fast-paced, rigorous flight testing program. The program will begin at Eglin AFB and may expand to other locations. It includes efforts such as flight envelope expansion, acoustics testing and developmental testing of a modular cargo adaptation for the airframe.

The aim is to accelerate and further develop HEXA for public and military applications such as emergency first response, personnel transport, base logistics and search-and-rescue missions. The development effort will also help accelerate the testing required for LIFT’s planned rollout of commercial flight locations.

“This partnership provides continued access to the unmatched expertise of the U.S. Air Force,” said LIFT Director of Business Development, Kevin Rustagi. “We’re excited about continuing to explore and develop a unique capability to the military: an aircraft that offers air mobility at a cost point comparable with ground transportation that, in the future, with mere hours of training, allows any service member to become a pilot.”

Testing will initially be performed at Eglin Air Force Base near Destin, Florida, alongside the 96th Test Wing and with the support of Air Force eVTOL initiative, Agility Prime.

LIFT has already begun coordinating with Col. Doug Creviston of the 96th Operations Group, which has tested systems for the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Falcon and A-10 Thunderbolt.

Photo: Lift

Photo: Lift

“LIFT is a great example of why Agility Prime exists — to further applications of eVTOL technology for both military and civilian use,” said Lt. Col. John Tekell, Air Force Agility Prime Lead at AFWERX.

Agility Prime has taken a flexible approach to contracting with the Phase 3 SBIR for LIFT. The contract is designed to be as agile as possible — it allows not only the Air Force, but any governmental entity to contract for flight-test activities with LIFT’s HEXA aircraft on an as-needed basis.

“This contract was designed to enable flexible flight test as a service of multiple HEXA aircraft for any government stakeholder, location and desired experiment,” said Sterling Alley, technology transition lead and LIFT program manager at Agility Prime. “We want it to be able to serve as a contract vehicle that accelerates HEXA towards fielding not just for the USAF, but the DOD and USG in general. We have a large number of interested stakeholders looking at use-cases for the aircraft and welcome growing the community even further in the future.”

“​LIFT’s Phase III SBIR contract award is a meaningful vote of confidence from the U.S. Air Force,” said Eric Horan, former U.S. Navy government contracting officer and founding partner of Decisive Point, a venture capital firm that invests in dual-use technology startups and has invested in LIFT. “It means the Air Force has determined LIFT’s previous development and testing contracts were successful. This is an important step towards scaling access to LIFT’s HEXA eVTOL aircraft throughout the Department of Defense and federal government at large.”

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