Air Force gives Xwing approval for autonomous cargo missions

By Vanessa Montalbano / February 9, 2024 at 6:09 PM

The Air Force has awarded autonomy startup Xwing military approval to fly cargo missions across California after successful completion of the AGILE FLAG 24-1 Joint Force exercise, the company said in a Friday news release.

This designation of airworthiness via a military flight release in unrestricted airspace marks the first granted under the Air Force Research Laboratory's AFWERX Autonomy Prime program.

“Xwing had to meet the rigorous safety and the technical standards necessary to transparently integrate its autonomous aircraft into the National Airspace System (NAS),” the announcement said. “Xwing proved its dynamic capability for rapid and cost-effective dispersed logistics, delivering mission-critical, time-sensitive cargo to multiple operating stations, demonstrating the potential of autonomous operations as a force multiplier within Agile Combat Employment (ACE).”

Autonomy Prime is an arm of the AFWERX program, which intends to bring small businesses and startups to the table to address the Air Force’s top priorities, including autonomy, and strengthen the industrial base. The goal is to better facilitate the transition from research and technology to operational capability.

Over the span of nearly two weeks, Xwing worked with Air Combat Command and Air Mobility Command to transport mission critical cargo between eight different public and military airports, racking up 2,800 autonomous flight miles across California and 22 overall hours in the air.

“AGILE FLAG was an opportunity to showcase autonomous light cargo logistics and demonstrate operational relevance and increased technical readiness,” AFWERX Autonomy Prime deputy branch chief Kate Brown said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the ACE concept encourages improved distribution among the bases to ensure that one is not singularly targeted and that each is capable of defending itself when faced with pacing threats. The Air Force has said that autonomy will play a major role in this and future efforts.

“We saw first-hand during AGILE FLAG that the use of Xwing’s autonomous aircraft eliminated the need to fly a larger aircraft such as a C-130 to deliver critical cargo to the warfighter on short notice,” said Maxime Gariel, president and co-founder of Xwing. “When you fly missions autonomously, you operate with the speed and efficiency required for dispersed ACE operations, delivering cargo and personnel at a much lower cost and risk.”