UND awarded Air Force ‘Agility Prime’ contracts

University’s role in Air Force’s Agility Prime ‘flying car’ research further grows North Dakota’s UAS ecosystem

Matt Chasen, LIFT Aircraft chief executive officer, pilots the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) Hexa over Camp Mabry, Texas, on Aug. 20. Texas-based LIFT Aircraft is among the companies that have joined the Agility Prime “Air Race to Certification.” Top Air Force leaders gathered with their Texas National Guard hosts and others on that day to watch the first Agility Prime flying car demonstration. Air National Guard photo.

The University of North Dakota has been awarded three contracts by the U.S. Air Force to develop new technologies to be used in small, low-cost aircraft that will support Air Force missions, Sen. John Hoeven has announced.

The contracts are being awarded under the Air Force’s Agility Prime initiative, through which the service is bringing together industry, government and university communities to advance the market for advanced air mobility vehicles — “flying cars” for both military and civilian use.

UND’s contracts, described below, will help the Air Force fill gaps in the communications and weather-forecasting areas of the project.

John Mihelich

In total, the Air Force has awarded four contracts under the Agility Prime initiative to North Dakota entities, including three in which UND is collaborating with an industry partner, and one of which also involves the University partnering with the Northern Plains Unmanned Aerial Systems Test Site in Grand Forks. The UND Aerospace Foundation is the recipient of the fourth contract, in partnership with the Test Site.

“The Agility Prime projects are directly aligned with our current expertise, and they’ll help UND move forward with our research related to Autonomy and national security,” said John Mihelich, vice president for research and development at UND.

“Plus, the projects showcase not only our expertise in Autonomy R&D, but also our collaborative strengths and capacity to solve problems in the ground, air and space domains.

UND is grateful to Sen. Hoeven for his tireless work on the state and University’s behalf.”

The right place

Hoeven worked with Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, Commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, and made the case that Agility Prime work should be done at the UAS test site in North Dakota and in conjunction with UND. Pringle and Roper are the top Air Force officials responsible for advancing Agility Prime.

Sen. John Hoeven

The senator also recently highlighted Agility Prime in a panel discussion with Pringle at the 14th annual UAS Summit in Grand Forks, stressing the initiative’s potential to create new avenues of investment and growth in the state’s unmanned technology industry.

“We worked hard to make the case that North Dakota was the right place for this work, considering our continued growth as a premiere hub for UAS,” said Hoeven. “The expertise of UND and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site put us in a strong position to play an important role in the Air Force’s Agility Prime initiative and will be key in advancing the technologies needed to develop these small aircraft, which will offer flexibility and efficiency to Air Force operations. We will continue advancing this and other initiatives to secure new investment and realize opportunities in our state’s tech sector.”

Said Nicholas Flom, executive director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, “The UAS leadership within North Dakota led by the vision of Senator Hoeven puts us in a great position to support industry that is working with Agility Prime. We look forward to our continued collaboration with Senator Hoeven on these top priorities and are ready to support future developments.”

Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett learns about the details of the Hexa, an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, from Matt Chasen, LIFT Aircraft chief executive officer, at Camp Mabry, Texas, on Aug. 20. Also present at the demonstration was Air Force Chief of Staff Charles Q. Brown, Jr. (not shown). Air National Guard photo.

Contract details

The details of UND’s contracts are as follows:

· Spectrum Efficient UAV Communications System, $75,087 – In partnership with the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and Shared Spectrum Company (SSC), UND proposes to implement and demonstrate dynamic spectrum access (DSA) communications technology to improve the capacity and reliability of air vehicle data networks.

· Weather Scout, $45,756 – In collaboration with Daniel H. Wagner Associates, Inc. and a variety of UAS private sector companies, UND will help address the risks of hazardous weather to UAS operations. This phase includes identifying stakeholders, determining appropriate UAS platforms and instruments and developing a flight test plan for a prototype weather scout system.

· Flite Core Cloud System, $45,000 – In collaboration with Daniel H. Wagner Associates, Inc., TruWeather Solutions and Atlantic Drone Pros, UND will address the need for intelligent traffic management to mitigate risks for low-altitude UAS. This phase includes interfacing with existing monitoring components to assess real-time risk and support route planning.

In addition, the UND Aerospace Foundation was awarded the following:

· Low SWAP ACAS-Xu based Detect and Avoid (DAA) – In partnership with the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and Sagetech Avionics, Inc., the UND Aerospace Foundation will provide analysis and flight test support in the development of an airborne DAA system, enabling small UAS to safely operate beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) in the National Airspace System (NAS).