The United States Air Force recently witnessed a flight test of a new a multicopter being developed by Texas company LIFT Aircraft. The craft was flown by the company’s CEO and we assume chief pilot for the Air Force at Camp Mabry. The USAF Chief of Staff even sat in the thing.
It’s called Hexa (from the Greek for “six), though Hexa has 18 rotors (so go figure), which are, the company says, all individually controlled by a computer utilizing triple-redundant autopilots. There’s also a whole-airplane recovery parachute system (WARPS) and airbags. Oh, and it’s said to be amphibious.
We caught wind of the story via the British Daily Mail, and true to form it predicted that Hexa “could soon join the Air Force as one of its planes.” Which is not going to happen, of course, even if Hexa does prove itself. There would be years of development, testing and acquisitions hurdles to clear. There is nothing about the process that makes the word “soon” appropriate. That said, USAF Secretary Barbara Barrett was there for the demonstration. It’s not known if she had her checkbook handy, but we’re guessing not.
There are no specifications on the multicopter, and we are, of course, interested to know how it can achieve its very light weight (the company advertises it as an ultralight, but legal ultralights must weigh less than 254 pounds—Hexa tips the scales at 432 pounds. Batteries weigh a lot, so that must factor into it, and to keep it light you’d have to limit batteries, which limits power and/or endurance, which limits usefulness. If LIFT has any secrets about how it gets around that whole no free lunch issue, we’d love to hear.
The Air Force hasn’t shared video of that flight, but LIFT has video of HEXA on its site, and the machine looks a long ways away from where it would need to be. The craft looks marginally smooth in flight, and the pilot demonstrates only vertical flight, very slow forward flight and a little hovering (which to its credit looks pretty good).
We’ll keep you apprised.