AFWERX Autonomy Prime partners demonstrate autonomous flight capabilities, make history at AGILE FLAG Published Feb. 9, 2024 By Matthew Clouse Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AFRL) – AFWERX Autonomy Prime partner Xwing Inc. made history by flying the first autonomous logistics mission as part of the Air Force exercise AGILE FLAG 24-1 at McClellan Airfield in Sacramento, California, Jan. 26, 2024. The flight was one of several autonomous demonstrations conducted during the exercise by Autonomy Prime partners Reliable Robotics and Xwing between Jan. 26 and Feb.1, 2024. “Agile Flag demonstrations were a success and exercise leadership was supportive in leveraging our autonomous cargo logistics and offered multiple opportunities to support cargo movements between exercise locations which generated interest from the operational end-users and headquarters personnel,” said Kate Brown, AFWERX Autonomy Prime deputy branch chief. “We’re starting to see a shift in the conversation of how the Department of the Air Force can supplement traditional logistics concepts with autonomous cargo aircraft.” Autonomy Prime is a new technology program in Prime, a division within AFWERX, and partners with the private sector to accelerate testing and affordably deliver game-changing technology to the warfighter. AFWERX has awarded both Reliable Robotics and Xwing Small Business Innovation Research Phase Two and Phase Three contracts to conduct autonomous flight trials and demonstrate the capability in an operationally relevant environment. Both companies have autonomous flight technology that allows their aircraft to taxi, take off, fly to a destination and land. Chad Russell, left, AFWERX Prime flight test engineer, and Kate Brown, right, AFWERX Autonomy Prime deputy branch chief, brief Maj. Gen. David Lyons, 15th Air Force commander, about Autonomy Prime, an AFWERX innovation branch focused on the development and implementation of emerging autonomous technologies during AGILE FLAG 24-1 at McClellan Airfield in Sacramento, Calif., Jan. 31, 2024. AGILE FLAG is Air Combat Command's contributing certifying event for its expeditionary air base force elements throughout the AFFORGEN cycle, ensuring they are ACE-capable forces that meet Combatant Commanders’ needs. Lyons also watched autonomous flight demonstrations from two AFWERX partners, Reliable Robotics and Xwing Inc., to see how autonomous aviation can contribute to the Agile Combat Employment, or ACE, concept, which is to disperse aircraft and equipment between major hub bases and smaller airfields to improve resilience and survivability. (U.S. Air Force photo / Matthew Clouse) ) Photo Details / Download Hi-Res “The point of AFWERX is to get emerging and operationally relevant technologies into the hands of warfighters,” said Ian Clowes, AFWERX Prime stakeholder engagement lead. “So I coordinated with the 4th Fighter Wing for nearly a year, and the initial pitch was for us to show up and make sure we were not interfering with the exercise. But plans changed, and we got to demonstrate the capability in an operational environment.” Xwing arrived at McClellan Airfield, AGILE FLAG Main Operating Base, with its ground control station on Jan. 26. Dozens of Airmen stopped by to watch autonomous flight demonstrations and put questions to Xwing and Autonomy Prime leadership. Maxime Gariel, left, Xwing co-founder and chief technology officer, briefs Airmen about their autonomous flight capabilities in the Xwing ground control station during AGILE FLAG 24-1 at McClellan Airfield in Sacramento, Calif., Jan. 30, 2024. Xwing successfully completed multiple autonomous logistics missions during AGILE FLAG, Air Combat Command’s contributing certifying event for its expeditionary air base force elements throughout the AFFORGEN cycle, ensuring they are ACE-capable forces that meet Combatant Commanders’ needs. AFWERX has awarded Xwing two Small Business Innovation Research contracts, a Phase Two in March 2023 and a Phase Three in December 2023 to demonstrate the capability in an operationally relevant environment. (U.S. Air Force photo / Matthew Clouse) Photo Details / Download Hi-Res “This technology has a lot of real-world possibilities and there are assets that the Air Force has that would benefit from having autonomous capabilities,” said Master Sgt. Cody Jurgensmeyer, 4th Fighter Wing armament division chief. Reliable Robotics arrived at AGILE FLAG Jan. 30 and demonstrated its autonomous capabilities to a group of Airmen. The team landed at McClellan Airfield, unloaded its dual-use control station and, in less than 20 minutes, was ready to remotely operate an autonomous aircraft at Hollister Municipal Airport, California, more than 120 miles away. Airmen viewed the demonstration from a TV screen on the ground, and asked questions of Reliable Robotics and Autonomy Prime leadership. David O’Brien, left, Reliable Robotics senior vice president of government solutions, briefs Airmen about their autonomous flight capabilities during AGILE FLAG 24-1 at McClellan Airfield in Sacramento, Calif., Jan. 30, 2024. AFWERX Autonomy Prime invited Reliable Robotics to conduct autonomous flight demonstrations during AGILE FLAG and show Air Force leaders how autonomous aviation can contribute to the Agile Combat Employment, or ACE, concept. The ACE concept is to disperse aircraft and equipment between major hub bases and smaller airfields to improve resilience and survivability. AFWERX has awarded Reliable Robotics two Small Business Innovation Research contracts, a Phase Two in April 2022 and a Phase Three in October 2022 to demonstrate the capability in an operationally relevant environment. (U.S. Air Force photo / Matthew Clouse) Photo Details / Download Hi-Res At the conclusion of the exercise, Autonomy Prime will collect the data to validate the concept of using an autonomous logistics aircraft in an ACE construct. The results will be analyzed and then briefed to Air Force leadership. “This demonstration was the first step in showcasing how autonomy and light cargo logistics can be leveraged in an ACE construct,” Brown said. “Moving forward, Autonomy Prime is continuing to investigate integration into future exercises to further refine concept of operations and use-case. In parallel, Autonomy Prime is working with requirements owners and vendors to inform future requirements.” About AFRL The Air Force Research Laboratory is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 12,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit afresearchlab.com. About AFWERX As the innovation arm of the DAF and a directorate within the Air Force Research Laboratory, AFWERX brings cutting-edge American ingenuity from small businesses and start-ups to address the most pressing challenges of the DAF. AFWERX employs approximately 340 military, civilian and contractor personnel at six hubs and sites executing an annual $1.4 billion budget. Since 2019, AFWERX has executed 4,697 new contracts worth more than $2.6 billion to strengthen the U.S. defense industrial base and drive faster technology transition to operational capability. For more information, visit: afwerx.com.