AFWERX builds connections, spurs innovations at Eglin

  • Published
  • By Samuel King Jr.

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. - AFWERX had a very busy week here Oct. 23 - 27 with engagements, a few firsts, and a new aircraft arrival among the highlights.

The week began with more than 200 AFWERX employees descending on the Emerald Coast for their fall program management review.  The goal of the event was to bring this full-remote Air Force organization together for in-person engagements and provide employees an opportunity to connect face-to-face.

"This event was critical to ensuring the whole team understands their role in the mission and develops the essential knowledge and skills to solve some of our most pressing challenges in the Air Force,” said Col. Elliott Leigh, AFWERX director and Air Force chief commercialization officer.  “Developing these connections across AFWERX and the greater ecosystem allows us to be more effective in our jobs, and ultimately to deliver novel innovations to our warfighters."

AFWERX has many Team Eglin connections and continues to grow them here.  The earliest versions of the 96th Test Wing and AFWERX partnership was Agility/Autonomy Prime that began with electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft and grew to include AI and autonomy testing on unmanned aerial systems.

Prime was very much a part of the AFWERX week here with three major events.  The first was the Federal Aviation Administration memorandum of understanding signing Oct. 25.  The agreement provides unmanned aircraft traffic management at Eglin to provide airspace management capabilities and support the advanced air mobility mission.

“A new era of aviation is taking off and safe and efficient operations require collaboration,” said John Maffei, the FAA’s acting director of Portfolio Management and Technology Development. “This data will help inform FAA certification efforts, policies, standards and future airspace integration requirements.”

The MOU signing was followed by the delivery of BETA Technologies’ electric aircraft, ALIA, to its new home at Duke Field.  The arrival of ALIA also brings with it, the first electric aircraft charging station on a military installation.

"It is going to transform the way we see air travel in the world, but it is also going to transform the way we have air power in the Air Force,” said Leigh.  “We’re going to learn what we can do with vehicles like this and we’re going to take it to our warfighters.”

Also during the week, AFWERX partner, Near Earth Autonomy tested their eight-foot autonomous UAS with the Autonomy, Data, and AI Experimentation proving ground on Eglin’s range.  The ADAx Proving ground is a Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office and AFWERX venture, with the 96th TW as the lead.

“This is a great opportunity to be able to test our autonomy technology here at Eglin,” said Paul Bartlett, NEA head of systems engineering. “The autonomy advancement and operations happening at Eglin are helping to accelerate our development."

On Oct. 25, the Emerald Spark Cell’s innovation incubator held its grand opening.  This is another 96th TW and AFWERX collaboration.  The intent of the innovation incubator, located at the base library, is to provide a space to foster innovation, creativity, and collaboration amongst military personnel, academia, non-profit organizations, etc.  It is the first of its kind in the Air Force.

“The incubator is here to empower Airmen to collaborate, improve and solve problems and inefficiencies locally and across the Air Force,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Geraghty, 96th TW commander. 

The success of this week along with many future plans and projects continuing to grow will keep AFWERX and Team Eglin working to together for years to come.

"We chose Eglin AFB because of the strong partnerships that already exist between AFWERX and a number of key technology organizations across the Emerald Coast," said Dr. Jeff McMullan, AFWERX chief engineer at Eglin. "Leveraging and strengthening these connections allows us to fortify the pathways for getting American ingenuity into the hands of the warfighter."