In a video from the Ohio Department of Transportation, an electric aircraft takes off from a Springfield airfield.

Eyes to the skies: Ohio is an electric flying vehicle testbed

An Ohio airfield looked like a scene from a futuristic movie this week. Next-generation aviation leaders from the private and public sectors gathered to demonstrate electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, commonly called eVTOL or flying cars, at the 2021 Ohio Advanced Air Mobility Showcase at Springfield-Beckley Airport in Springfield, Ohio.

Representatives from the U.S. Air Force and NASA joined companies like Lift Aircraft, Kitty Hawk, and Joby Aviation at the showcase, which was sponsored by FlyOhio, from the Ohio Department of Transportation’s DriveOhio initiative. Springfield happens to be the center of the industry, largely because of its low-altitude air traffic control capabilities, said Howard Wood, executive director of DriveOhio.

“The reason they’re here is because of the Ohio assets: our air traffic control system, called SkyVision, allows these aircraft to fly in protected airspace that they can’t do anywhere else in the country,” Wood said. He pointed to ODOT investments; partnerships with local, state, and federal government agencies; and local universities creating a pipeline for technically capable students in advanced manufacturing as contributing factors to Ohio’s next-gen aviation ecosystem.

The showcase focused on bringing together participants from different parts of the industry to exhibit next-gen air mobility technology and infrastructure advancements. Two eVTOL flights — one manned and one unmanned — were the highlight.

Different applications for the small, electric vehicles are being tested in Springfield. The initial market is probably going to be small, high-value cargo, according to Wood. “The medical industry is one place that we expect that to take off,” he said. For example, time-sensitive transportation for organ transplants currently is expensive but would be cheaper if carried out in an eVTOL. 

Another application could be transporting emergency responders to scenes quickly and easily. The eVTOLs even could provide low-altitude — below 2,000 feet — transportation for recreational purposes. “The market will determine what we use these for,” Wood said, noting that the different manufacturers are aiming to serve different markets.

FlyOhio touts its low-altitude air traffic control system as a tool that can help solve long-term transportation congestion. It is also viewed as a leading way to help bring eVTOL and drone technologies into the mainstream. Currently, the federal government restricts the use of such aircraft because no widespread air traffic control system exists for aircraft below 2,000 feet to ensure they fly safely when out of the user’s sight.