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GoAERO Prize offers $2M for emergency vehicles that fly

Updated: Apr 16

A newly announced program called GoAERO is offering more than $2 million in prizes for the development of single-person flying vehicles that are customized for emergency responders — four years after a similar competition ended without awarding its top prize.

The GoAERO Prize program is led by Gwen Lighter, the same woman who was in charge of the earlier GoFly Prize. And as was the case for the GoFly Prize, Boeing is one of the sponsors. Other supporters include NASA, RTX ( the umbrella company for Raytheon, Pratt & Whitney and Collins Aerospace), Iridium and Xwing.

Back in 2017, the GoFly Prize offered $2 million to support the development of personal aerial vehicles — and three years later, the organizers held a fly-off in California to determine the winners.

None of the teams won the $1 million top prize, but a $100,000 prize was awarded to Japan’s teTra Aviation for building a rotor-equipped vehicle that looked like a cross between a motorcycle and an ultralight airplane. At last report, teTra was still developing a commercial version of its vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicle, or VTOL.

The GoAERO Prize tightens the focus of the competition to concentrate on VTOL aircraft that are optimized for emergency-response applications — for example, to handle search and rescue, medical emergencies, wildfires, natural disasters or humanitarian crises.

“Emergency responders put their lives on the line to help those in need,” Lighter said in a Feb. 6 news release. “They deserve the best, most capable technologies that can perform a wide array of rescue missions. The GoAERO Prize hopes to inspire and catalyze the creation of affordable, portable, versatile and autonomy-enabled Emergency Response Flyers that will help close a critical gap in emergency response technology.”

Bob Pearce, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics research, endorsed the competition. “NASA has a long history of trailblazing new technologies that improve daily life and support disaster response,” he said. “GoAERO shares in our vision that aviation can be harnessed to explore, discover and build a better future for humanity.”

The competition consists of three stages. Teams will first be asked to submit technical papers relating to their design concepts. Stage 2 calls for validating the concepts by building subscale or full-scale vehicles. Stage 3 features a final fly-off in 2027, during which teams must use their vehicles to complete five real-world emergency response missions.

Fly-off competitors will be judged on the basis of precision, productivity, ability to deal with adversity, adaptation and maneuvering. The top performer in each of the five missions will be awarded $150,000, and the team that scores the most points across all missions will win the $750,000 top prize. There’ll also be a $100,000 Disruptor Award from RTX — the award that teTra won in 2000 — as well as a $100,000 Autonomy Award. Other monetary prizes will be awarded in the course of the competition.

The GoAERO Prize seems likely to attract the same types of teams that sought after the GoFly Prize — ranging from students and hobbyists to veteran engineers and entrepreneurs.

Jeff Zika, the CEO of Seattle-based AirGO.AI, discovered that he was already a member of the GoAERO website’s discussion forum. “I seem to be pre-registered, I assume because I ran a GoFly team,” he wrote in a posting. “Should I add members to my GoFly team or form a new team for GoAERO?” (He was advised to form a new team.)

Stephen Tibbitts, the CEO of Tacoma, Wash.-based Zeva Aero, was intrigued to hear about the new competition. “This is fresh news for us,” he told me via email.

Zeva fielded a flying saucer-like vehicle in the GoFly Prize competition, but the company has since shifted to a design that looks more like a conventional aircraft. Will Zeva take part in the GoAERO competition? Tibbitts said he’d need to “discuss it with the team.”


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