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Virginia Startup to Develop Fixed-Wing Drone for US Air Force

Virginia aerospace startup RapidFlight has secured a $10-million contract to produce a fixed-wing autonomous aircraft for the US Air Force.

The three-year deal supports the service’s AFWERX Autonomy Prime program, which collaborates with small businesses to develop innovative solutions addressing challenges across military operations.

The initial phase of the contract will run for seven months and complete the design of an unmanned aerial system for developmental testing and evaluation at the Autonomy Prime proving ground at Duke Field, Florida.

A contractor-operated demonstration will follow at the company’s flight test center in Manassas, Virginia.

RapidFlight will supply drone operations and maintenance training for participating US Air Force operators during the contract period.

‘Critical’ for Defense

RapidFlight wrote that the project will leverage the firm’s proprietary SPX autonomous vehicle, which features a modular bay for payload types and sensors.

The drone is designed to carry up to 12 pounds (5 kilograms) of cargo and achieve a range of up to 150 nautical miles (280 kilometers).

Each system planned for the project will incorporate four airframe parts, a ground control station, a compact launcher, and a field kit.

SPX fixed-wing drone. Photo: RapidFlight
SPX fixed-wing drone. Photo: RapidFlight

The aircraft will be accompanied by RapidFlight’s Common Avionics 2.0 modular interface for “faster and more economical” flight data generation and developmental payload integration throughout test sessions.

In addition, the company will apply its AgileAviation methodology to reduce development life cycles within the contract’s first phase.

“Our collaboration with the AFWERX Autonomy Prime Program positions RapidFlight as a leading innovator for delivering mission-customized, autonomous aircraft with up to 80% reduced design-to-manufacture time and platform costs as compared to existing solutions,” RapidFlight Growth and Customer Programs Director Mike Uffelman explained.

“This contract will … explore RapidFlight’s digital engineering process and its modern development approach to produce customizable aircraft with novel technologies critical for national security.”

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