AFWERX, NASA and FAA sign info-sharing ‘MoU of MoUs’


BETA test pilots deliver their CTOL prototype to the US Air Force last week at Duke Field, Florida. The aircraft will benefit from the new agreement. (credit: BETA)

AFWERX Prime, the FAA and NASA have agreed to share flight-test data to accelerate the safe integration of AAM aircraft into the national airspace system (NAS).  

The agreement was signed by Col. Elliott Leigh, AFWERX director and chief commercialisation officer for the Department of the Air Force, and John Maffei, the FAA’s acting director of Portfolio Management and Technology Development, at Duke Field, Florida last week. 

Leigh noted that, during the past three years, AFWERX has handed out more than $345m in contracts to 36 developers of electric aircraft technologies. Which has in turn generated more than $11bn in commercial investment in the AAM sector. Leigh said now is the time to redouble these efforts not only with the FAA, but also with other federal partners in this space. 

“With this MoU and the ongoing AAM Interagency Working Group, we are accelerating a breakthrough in electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft,” explained Leigh. “We are driving progress in propulsion technology, in manufacturing and materials, and in test and safety for a novel class of air vehicles. Keeping this effort rooted in the United States, building our national security and accelerating innovation for our Airmen and Guardians are all crucial for the Air Force, and we are humbled to be a part of this historic effort. I am excited about this industry’s direction and the Air Force’s role in shaping it.” 

The MoU will enable the US Air Force, AFWERX and the FAA to exchange data and share expertise needed to test AAM technologies. The data will inform FAA certification policy, standards and future airspace integration requirements. 

The FAA’s Maffei said: “A new era of aviation is taking off and safe and efficient operations require collaboration. This data will help inform FAA certification efforts, policies, standards and future airspace integration requirements.” 

In July, the FAA released a plan detailing the steps it and others will need to take to safely enable AAM operations in the near term. The “Innovate28”, aka I28, plan includes components and the sequence they will follow for operations to reach scale at one or more sites by 2028.  FAA officials said the MoU supports the I28 initial entry into service plan as well as future phases defined in the FAA’s UAM concept of operations. 

Darshan Divakaran, AFWERX head of Airspace Innovation and Prime Partnerships, told us a few weeks ago this agreement would turn out to be the “MoU of MoUs” . Upon release of the announcement, he said: “The agreement establishes a unique approach to integrated testing and data sharing that will help accelerate development of US-built aircraft, supporting infrastructure and regulatory policy needed for successful integration of AAM. 

“This MOU is a big step for the future of AAM and provides industry and investors the confidence needed to accelerate forward,” Divakaran added. “This partnership validates why the DOD created the AFWERX Agility Prime program to focus on AAM and dual-use technology.”