Archer Aviation, manufacturer of the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) Midnight air taxi, is ramping up prototype production as it works toward type certification with the FAA.
The company on Wednesday said it started building three type-conforming, piloted Midnight aircraft to be used in for-credit flight testing with the regulator, expected to begin later this year. Those evaluations represent a crucial step in the manufacturer’s path to type certification, which it hopes to achieve before its planned 2025 commercial launch.
Archer said component manufacturing for the type-conforming Midnight models is “well underway,” adding that final assembly of the first aircraft at its San Jose, California, manufacturing facility is “on track” to begin in the coming weeks. Prior to for-credit testing, the firm will use the aircraft for its initial piloted test campaign. Rival manufacturer Joby Aviation kicked off piloted test flights late last year.
The three aircraft will feature components that align with the type design specifications laid out for Archer by the FAA in December 2022. This will allow the regulator to evaluate a version of the aircraft resembling the one the company intends to launch commercially. Passing the test will be a key step toward Archer’s ambitions.
The start of type-conforming Midnight construction follows Archer’s completion of the first phase of uncrewed prototype flight test in January. The next phase, which will include a full wing-borne transition flight, is expected to begin in the coming months.
“The key to achieving FAA certification is flying a conforming aircraft,” said Adam Goldstein, founder and CEO of Archer. “I believe we are positioned to be the first in the sector to do so. From day one, Archer’s strategy has been to build an aircraft that is certifiable and manufacturable at scale. This focus is what has allowed us to move quicker and more efficiently than any other company in the industry over the last few years.”
Archer’s goal is to replace 60- to 90-minute commutes by car with 10- to 20-minute, 20 to 50 sm (17 to 43 nm) electric air taxi flights. In the U.S., the firm is working with United Airlines to launch routes in major cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles—and potentially other cities housing United hub airports.
Midnight is designed to carry a pilot plus four passengers on rapid, back-to-back flights, with as little as 10 minutes of charge time between them. The air taxi has a projected 100 sm (87 nm) range and 130-knot cruise speed.
In October, Archer secured $65 million in funding for what it bills as the “world’s largest” eVTOL production plant in Covington, Georgia. According to the company, the funds will cover “substantial majority” of construction costs. The first phase of construction is expected to wrap up this year, providing capacity to produce 650 aircraft annually. In the second phase, production capacity will swell to 2,000 aircraft per year.
Archer expects to keep manufacturing costs lower than those of its competitors by leveraging a network of outside aerospace providers, such as Safran, Garmin, and Honeywell. Rival manufacturers such as Lilium are also adopting that strategy—many of them are working with the same suppliers.
When (or if) Archer receives type certification from the FAA, the firm will also need to obtain production certification to begin ramping up operations in Covington. Airworthiness certification rounds up the trifecta of approvals the company will need to scale operations.
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