Feb 14, 2024 - Technology

Xwing's autonomous plane flies Air Force cargo

Airmen load cargo into Xwing's autonomous aircraft, a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, during AGILE FLAG 24-1 at McClellan Airfield in Sacramento, California, Jan. 27, 2024.

Xwing's autonomous aircraft at Sacramento McClellan Airport in California. Photo: U.S. Air Force/Matthew Clouse

Autonomous flight startup Xwing recently transported cargo for the U.S. Air Force as part of a military exercise, the company tells Axios.

Why it matters: It's a confidence-booster in self-flying airplanes' capabilities as they work toward commercial operations.

Details: Xwing's Cessna Caravan cargo aircraft flew over 2,800 autonomous miles across California during a joint exercise called "Agile Flag 24-1," the company says.

  • The plane logged 22 hours through complex California airspace, with stops at eight airports, including Vandenberg Space Force Base and Sacramento McClellan Airport.
  • The Air Force assigned Xwing to fly missions as needed during the exercise, reducing the branch's reliance on larger cargo haulers like the C-130 Hercules, the company says.

Of note: The aircraft operated autonomously, though a safety pilot was aboard in case of emergency.

  • Xwing's tech is designed for uncrewed flight, with ground operators monitoring the aircraft.

What they're saying: The exercise "allowed us to showcase this technology ahead of formal commercial certification," Xwing CEO Fred Cromer tells Axios.

  • "The maturity of the technology allowed us to get to the point where the military felt comfortable that we could not only demonstrate the technology, but actually use it."

The big picture: Other next-gen aviation companies, like those working on electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) craft, have also been partnering with the military to test and develop their designs — and sniff out potentially lucrative Pentagon contracts.

What's next: Xwing is progressing toward commercial certification in the civilian world, with designs on selling its technology to aircraft makers and others.

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