The innovation arm of the Department of the USAF, part of the Air Force Research Laboratory and partner Xwing Inc. have flown the first autonomous logistics mission as part of exercise AGILE FLAG 24-1 at McClellan Airfield in Sacramento, California. The flight was one of several autonomous demonstrations conducted during the exercise. 

“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.

Demonstrations turned into an operationally relevant mission when Airmen needed an aircraft to transport equipment from March Air Reserve Base, California, to McClellan Airfield. Airmen loaded the equipment onto Xwing’s Cessna 208B and the aircraft successfully flew its first autonomous cargo flight during an Air Force exercise. That momentous flight was one of numerous demonstrations flown by Xwing during AGILE FLAG and over the course of the exercise, they flew more than 2,800 autonomous flight miles to military bases and civilian airports throughout California.

“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.”