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Det. 62 - Small Detachment, Big Impact for AETC's 2022 Team of the Year

  • Published
  • By Dan Hawkins
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- In its short existence, Air Education and Training Command’s Detachment 62 has had an outsized impact on the electric vertical take-off and lift (eVTOL) landscape across the nation. 

Partnerships across industry and the government have been key to success for Det. 62, who was recently recognized as AETC’s 2022 Team of the Year. 

“Our mission is to advance the electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) industry in the U.S. by training the first generation of Air Force eVTOL pilots,” said Col. Frederick Haley, Det. 62 commander. “This simple tasking turned out to be far more complex than initially anticipated. The team has tackled every challenge thrown their way through a combination of AETC and AFWERX funding as well as by leveraging partnerships with industry, academia, and other government agencies.”

Haley noted the support from researchers at the Air Force Test Pilot School, two AFWERX Fellows, and a team of contracted scientists at Aptima inc. as instrumental in the team’s recognition.

Unique challenges and differences between eVTOL aircraft and other types of aircraft or helicopters has kept the team busy.

For instance, the reliance on distributed electric propulsion means that all eVTOL aircraft are “fly-by-wire” which relies on varying degrees of computer automation to interpret pilot inputs and control thrust.

“Because they takeoff like a helicopter and fly like an airplane, neither helicopter or airplane controls are adequate, also there is no standard control scheme for this new class of aerial vehicles,” Haley said.

The team took a step back and researched assumptions the manufacturers and regulators had about these aircraft. This included measuring the impact of automation features including the learnability of the aircraft and how these novel control schemes should influence pilot selection criteria.

“The team ran their experiment with 87 volunteers that flew one of two simulators modeled after prototype aircraft, collecting over 12 million data points in the process,” Haley said.

The results of their research and engagement with manufacturers was evident in the test curricula they developed for the Kitty Hawk Heaviside 2, and Lift Hexa eVTOLs, Haley said while mentioning how the work directly enabled two historic firsts; the first Air Force test flight of an eVTOL, and the first certification of Air Force pilots of a Group-3 uncrewed eVTOL aerial system.

Additionally, the research conducted by Det. 62 has aided in the maturation of manufacturers’ training programs for Joby and Beta.

“Our team’s work was highlighted to the eVTOL industry through presentations at six aviation conferences and four published technical papers,” said Dr. Stephen Ellis, Det. 62’s Agility Prime learning coordinator. “Their experiences in this next wave of aviation has influenced policy and standards through their partnerships with the FAA, NASA, and the international standards organization SAE inc.”

Currently, the eVTOL industry is rapidly maturing this dual use technology, while the Air Force is executing plans to beddown eVTOL aircraft at multiple bases with the help of strategic partnerships across AFWERX and the AETC training team at Det 62, Ellis said.

Moving forward, AFWERX continues to forge new relationships with manufacturers including Archer, Elroy, and Phenix as part of an effort to nurture domestic innovation this emerging sector of the economy.

“Det 62 will engage on the training front when these manufacturers have sufficiently matured their control laws for the prototype aircraft,” Ellis said. “This allows the team to provide feedback to manufacturers before their go-to-market versions of the aircraft are finalized, thereby allowing them to improve the overall learnability of the human-system-interfaces.”

In January 2021, Air Education and Training Command established Detachment 62 to support the AFWERX Agility Prime program in response to a request to from the undersecretary of the Air Force for Acquisition and has served as the learning and training arm for AFWERX Agility Prime program and its 44 Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) partners.