Xwing’s autonomous logistics opens new opportunities for DoD


Xwing’s Cessna 208B has successfully completed an autonomous logistics mission as part of a continuing partnership with AFWERX Autonomy Prime.

Watched on by dozens of airmen in a ground control station, including Maj. Thomas Davis, Pacific Air Forces Future Capabilities branch chief, Xwing’s Cessna flew its mission last week over McClellan Airfield in Sacramento, California. 

“To see an aircraft takeoff, fly and land by itself, was fascinating to see,” said Davis. “Now that I’ve seen this technology, I’m going to talk with my leadership about a possible use case so we can help guide these companies in better ways to support the Department of Defense.”

The 208B was due to fly a series of takeoffs and landings at the Yolo County Airport in Davis, California — about 30 miles away from McClellan — but the demonstration soon turned into an opportunity for Xwing to show its operational capability. The Air Force asked if Xwing could pick up cargo at March Air Reserve Base, California (a few hundred miles to the south), and deliver it to McClellan Airfield, a mission usually completed by traditional heavy-lift aircraft.

Ian Clowes, AFWERX Prime stakeholder engagement lead said: “Demonstrating the capability in an operationally relevant environment is a technical milestone in a capability’s technical readiness and we wanted to check that box. And to get that opportunity when we only planned on a demonstration was a win for AFWERX and the Air Force.” 


Craig Milliard, Xwing flight test manager, monitors an autonomous flight from the Xwing ground control station at McClellan Airfield in Sacramento, California. (credit: US Air Force – Matthew Clouse)

Autonomy Prime is the newest technology programme in Prime, a division within AFWERX. It is focused on the development and implementation of emerging autonomous technologies. Similar to other Prime programmes, it partners with the private sector to accelerate testing and commercialisation.

The programme has awarded Xwing two Small Business Innovation Research contracts, a Phase Two in March 2023 and a Phase Three in December just gone. The contracts enable Xwing to initially conduct autonomous flight trials and then demonstrate the capability in an operationally relevant environment.

Davis added: “This technology has huge applications in the near-term for dispersed logistics and supports our ACE concept. Autonomous technologies would also help alleviate some of the Air Force’s manpower shortages.”

The aircraft responsible is Xwing’s Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, N101XW. Since flying its first autonomous flight in 2020 N101XW has since flown more than 500 autonomous flight hours across 250 flights. Data collected from those test flights show it can fly roughly 1,150 miles with 1,200lbs (544kg) of cargo, according to developers.