I write quite a bit about unmanned electric aircraft, and the benefits (both for people and the environment) that they come with as they replace the mission of many manned aircraft. Even more importantly, the low cost of operation gives more people access to aviation, even in a limited way, which saves money and saves lives. But, electric aviation can’t stay unmanned forever.
Fortunately, it isn’t going that way. We’re already seeing some electric fixed-wing aircraft, like the Eviation Alice, become serious players. Plus, there’s great demand for e-VTOL craft, which can act like both planes and helicopters, and serve human needs even in urban areas. While we aren’t seeing many flying planes, we’re seeing many designs emerge that have great potential.
One of these companies is Archer Aviation. In a recent press release and in an article at Reuters, we’re seeing some signs that it could be on its way to bringing something real to market, and not just renderings. It does have some test aircraft already flying:
But, Archer Aviation has much bigger plans. In just a few weeks, the company plans to introduce Midnight — its first eVTOL aircraft. The occasion will include more information about the engine’s specifications and abilities, FAA certification progress for Midnight, as well as other details regarding the electric powertrain system.
After the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) in August, Archer first announced Midnight. The PDR covers feasibility for all aspects of the aircraft’s specifications and manufacturing requirements to bring it to marketplaces. It also determines that the design would be compliant with regulations.
Midnight has a payload weight of 1,000+ pounds to support four passengers and a pilot. The company’s target flights have a charging turnaround time of approximately 10 minutes, which enables Archer’s urban air mobility (UAM) network operating model.
“From day one, Archer’s goal has been to build a commercially viable business that will revolutionize intra-city travel. We’ve made phenomenal progress in the development of our eVTOL aircraft technology and I am excited to share the aircraft that will deliver on that vision as part of our Open House event,” said Adam Goldstein, Archer’s CEO.
At the Open House event in August 2022, United Airlines made a $10 million pre-delivery payment for 100 of the Midnight aircraft. This showed further confidence in the aircraft’s development. attendees not only learned about Midnight’s technical capabilities but also had the opportunity to view a test flight of Archer’s full-scale technology demonstrator at its flight test facility.
Notable participants of the event will be United Airlines and Stellantis, a global automotive manufacturer. Stellantis has been an integral part of Archer’s eVTOL aircraft development since early on and play a vital role in Archer’s plans to achieve large-scale manufacturing for their aircraft.
“Collaboration has always been a cornerstone of our mission,” said Tom Muniz, Archer’s Chief Operating Officer. “Delivering a safe, sustainable revolution in air travel will take our collective vision and expertise, and I can’t wait to stand alongside the Archer team next month to share how together we are bringing our long-term plans to life.”
250 Air Taxis in 2025
A couple days ago, Reuters ran an article detailing an interview with the company’s CEO, in which plans were revealed, including a goal to build 250 battery-electric air taxis in 2025 and increase production in the following years, after being certified by the end of 2024.
“In our first year, we will build 250 aircraft, our second year will build 500 aircraft, our third year will build 650 aircraft and then we scale it up to around 2,000 aircraft per year,” CEO Adam Goldstein told Reuters.
The company wants to get the soon-to-be-revealed Midnight certified by the end of 2024, but that’s challenging to predict because the FAA is still drawing up plans for certifying that kind of aircraft. If they can do that as predicted, Archer’s Midnight could be among the first.
The California-based startup’s electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (e-VTOL) aircraft will compete in a crowded market with dozens of other developers after it is certified. Some of its main competitors include Joby Aviation Inc and Vertical Aerospace Ltd, which are also trying to reinvent the sector. This new kind of aviation, despite having the backing of big players, still faces apparent challenges like certification, air traffic management, and improving battery technology to cover more flights. For both drones and manned aircraft, these things are going to make e-VTOL a tough row to hoe.
Once these challenges are overcome, the company told Reuters it predicts demand for about 1,000 units per year.
Why This Matters
You don’t have to go as far back as the 1950s and 1960s to find crazy science fiction that predicted better for today. Do we have orbital hotels and missions to Jupiter like in 2001: A Space Odyssey (or its sequel movie and sequel books)? Nope. But, even as recently as 1989, it still looked like we might have flying cars and hoverboards 7 years ago. Sure, hoverboards wouldn’t have worked on water, but that’s better than catching on fire (like they did in the 2015 in our timeline), right?
My point is that we could still benefit from urban air mobility and non-flammable electric micromobility. The dreams of flying around cities and moving in 3D space with clean electric power to avoid congestion and pollution at the same time shouldn’t be confined to old movies. We should still strive to do this.
Even if nobody will be able to “hover convert” their car (or Delorean time machine), the benefits are still real and still very possible.
The younger versions of us that grew up watching Back to the Future (or, if you’re older than me, enjoyed it as an adult) would be kicking ourselves now if we didn’t at least keep trying to make those old dreams at least a little closer to reality. Fortunately, we can refrain from giving ourselves a swift kick to the shins because Archer is trying hard to do just that.
If you’re reading this in the 22nd century, be sure to check up on making another Archer some of us had fun watching a reality, will ya?
Featured image by Archer.
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