U.S. Air Force Awards $37 Million to Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to Develop Next-Generation VTOLs and Hydrogen Propulsion Technologies

Strategic Funding Increase (STRATFI) Investment Will Accelerate Development of ARES Tilt-Duct VTOL and Hydrogen Fuel Cell Propulsion for VTOL Applications

Piasecki Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES)

Piasecki Aircraft Corporation, a global leader in rotorcraft and aerial vehicles, announced today that it has been awarded a $37 million multi-year contract by AFWERX, the Air Force's innovation arm in conjunction with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), as part of its Strategic Funding Increase (STRATFI) program. The award will enable Piasecki to flight demonstrate its Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) tilt-duct vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial system (UAS) as well as industry-leading hydrogen fuel cell propulsion technologies for VTOL and other aviation applications.

“The STRATFI program plays a critical role in advancing emerging American technologies and we are thrilled to receive this significant investment,” said John Piasecki, CEO of Piasecki Aircraft. “This new funding will allow us to demonstrate ARES’ unique tilt-duct configuration, which enables seamless transition between hover and fixed-wing forward flight — a technological leap that would address critical aerial challenges faced by the U.S. military. The STRATFI test program will also fund the demonstration of zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell propulsion technology for VTOLs, including our forthcoming PA-890 compound helicopter. Demonstration of the PA-890 would be a world-first for electric aviation and would usher in a new era of clean vertical flight. While R&D work on these projects began several years ago, this new funding will rapidly expand our ability to deliver these radically new vehicles to customers and partners across the military and commercial sectors.”

The funding will support Piasecki R&D programs, including:

  • Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) — ARES is a modular multi-mission tilt duct VTOL vehicle that can be operated unmanned (UAS) or with an optional manned flight module. ARES is designed with a small landing footprint to enable shipboard and expeditionary operations as well as provide embedded multi-mission C4I, ISR, combat, and logistics support to small distributed combat forces operating over extended distances and in complex terrain. Rapidly-reconfigurable Mission Payload Modules deliver mission flexibility that significantly reduces overall logistics footprint and cost. The ARES Demonstration Vehicle was produced in partnership with Lockheed Martin with funding from DARPA. With follow-on funding from the U.S. Air Force and Army, Piasecki and Honeywell are integrating a triplex fly-by-wire flight control system to initiate ARES flight testing by the end of this year.
  • Hydrogen Fuel Cell Propulsion System — Piasecki is collaborating with ZeroAvia, a leader in hydrogen-electric aviation, to develop and implement its revolutionary High Temperature Proton Exchange Membrane (HTPEM) hydrogen fuel cell technology for PA-890 and other VTOL applications. The PA-890 eVTOL aircraft is expected to be the first zero-emission hydrogen-powered compound helicopter. The slowed-rotor winged helicopter is intended for use in a variety of missions including Emergency Medical Services (EMS), delivery of high-value On-Demand Logistics (ODL), On-Demand Mobility (ODM) personnel air transport, and many other commercial applications across the $40 billion commercial light helicopter market. In addition to zero carbon emissions, the PA-890 eVTOL enables up to a 50% reduction in direct operating cost and reduced noise compared with today's fossil fuel turbine helicopters — and significantly greater range compared with all-electric helicopters.

Val Miftakhov, Founder and CEO, ZeroAvia, said: “Higher temperature fuel cells are a critical technology to delivering improvements in specific power and unlocking truly clean propulsion for larger fixed wing aircraft, but they will also enable rotorcraft and VTOL applications. Working together on this project with a company of Piasecki’s heritage and expertise in rotorcraft, with US Air Force backing, is a hugely exciting step in delivering on our vision of hydrogen-electric engines in every aircraft.”

Earlier this year, Piasecki announced that it acquired the former Lockheed Martin Sikorsky Heliplex facility in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, and will transform the 219,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility into an advanced R&D and testing center for VTOL and UAS vehicles. The facility — which includes engineering, assembly, paint and finishing, as well as a flight test and delivery center — is expected to attract about 400 workers by 2028.

About Piasecki Aircraft Corporation

For more than 80 years, Piasecki has been a leader in vertical lift aircraft. It specializes in the design, fabrication, and flight testing of experimental rotorcraft and unmanned air vehicles and has developed and flown more than 25 advanced VTOL and UAV aircraft to date. Customers include the U.S. Air Force Research Lab and AFWERX; the U.S. Army Futures Command Aviation and Missile Center and Medical R&D Command; NAVAIR; DARPA; and SOCOM; as well as leading OEMs such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Piasecki is a recipient of numerous awards including the Presidential National Medal of Technology, Smithsonian Air & Space Achievement Award, and the prestigious Tibbitts Award for small business innovation from the U.S. Department of Defense. Piasecki has been a proud member of the Vertical Flight Society for more than 50 years. For more information, please visit piasecki.com.

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Endré Communications for Piasecki


About ZeroAvia 

ZeroAvia is a leader in zero-emission aviation, focused on hydrogen-electric aviation as the optimal solution for addressing the industry’s climate impact. Initially targeting a 300-mile range in 9–19 seat aircraft by the end of 2025, and up to 700-mile range in 40–80 seat aircraft by 2027, ZeroAvia has already secured experimental certificates for its three prototype aircraft from the CAA and FAA and passed significant flight test milestones. The company has secured a number of key partnerships with major aircraft OEMs and secured nearly 2,000 pre-orders for engines from a number of the major global airlines, with future revenue potential over $10bn. ZeroAvia is part of the UK Government’s Jet Zero Council. For more, please visit ZeroAvia.com, follow @ZeroAvia on FacebookTwitterInstagramLinkedIn, and YouTube.

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About AFRL  

The Air Force Research Laboratory is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 12,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit www.afresearchlab.com.


As the innovation arm of the DAF and a directorate within the Air Force Research Laboratory, AFWERX brings cutting-edge American ingenuity from small businesses and start-ups to address the most pressing challenges of the DAF. AFWERX employs approximately 325 military, civilian and contractor personnel at six hubs and sites executing an annual $1.4 billion budget. Since 2019, AFWERX has executed 4,697 contracts worth more than $2.6 billion to strengthen the U.S. defense industrial base and drive faster technology transition to operational capability. For more information, visit: www.afwerx.com.

This research was, in part, funded by the U.S. Government. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, of the U.S. Government.

Source: Piasecki Aircraft Corporation

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