Archer Aviation, manufacturer of the Midnight electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxi, has reached a major flight test milestone.
The company announced Wednesday that Midnight completed Phase 1 of its flight test campaign and is “on track” to begin for-credit testing with the FAA later this year. Those evaluations represent a critical step in type certification of the novel design.
Midnight wrapped up Phase 1 just three months after its maiden voyage in October, completing the process significantly faster than the company’s preproduction prototype, Maker. Archer said it is making “rapid progress” toward Phase 2, which will include a full wing-borne transition flight.
The company also upgraded Midnight’s battery system with some of the first high-voltage battery packs off its San Jose, California, production line as it readies for production. These milestones, Archer said, keep the aircraft’s certification schedule on time.
Archer is one of many U.S. eVTOL manufacturers targeting type certification, alongside Joby Aviation, Beta Technologies, Boeing’s Wisk Aero, and Overair. But so far, only one firm in the world—China’s EHang—has obtained its civil aviation authority’s approval.
“Midnight is progressing efficiently through our flight test program,” said Adam Goldstein, founder and CEO of Archer. “Over the last four years of flight testing, our team has been able to gather a tremendous amount of data and learnings that enable us to advance Midnight rapidly towards certification.”
Midnight is designed to fly a pilot plus four passengers on rapid, back-to-back flights, with only 10 to 12 minutes of charge time in between. The tiltrotor design features six fixed propellers for vertical flight and half a dozen more that rotate forward to support the wings in cruise.
Archer intends for Midnight to replace 60-to-90-minute commutes by car with 10-to-20-minute electric flights. The company claims these will be safe, low emission, and low noise while remaining cost-competitive with ground-based rideshare services like Uber or Lyft.
During Phase 1 of its flight test campaign, the air taxi covered increasingly complex flight maneuvers and data-gathering missions. The next phase will introduce an incremental approach to speed testing, in which the aircraft flies faster and faster until achieving full wing-borne transition. The maneuver would represent a major milestone in its eVTOL design, demonstrating both vertical lift and winged cruise in a single flight.
Once that’s achieved, Phase 3 will introduce simulated commercial routes, which will help demonstrate Midnight’s operational readiness. Then, it’s on to for-credit testing with the FAA. The regulator will have the final say on whether the air taxi is fit to fly.
Like other air taxi manufacturers, Archer is concurrently working AFWERX, the innovation arm of the U.S. Air Force, under a $142 million contract, which calls for the delivery of up to six aircraft. These will be deployed for personnel transport, logistics support, rescue operations, and more. Beyond the Air Force, other military branches will be able to leverage the contracts for different projects.
Archer has already begun construction on a scaled manufacturing plant, where it plans to produce up to 650 aircraft per year in partnership with automaker Stellantis. In October, Archer secured funding that it said will cover the “substantial majority” of construction costs.
Simultaneously, the manufacturer is building out electric infrastructure for Midnight’s eventual debut. Last year, it partnered with eVTOL competitor Beta Technologies to acquire charging systems and create a nationwide network. Both companies recently partnered with Atlantic Aviation to electrify FBOs across the U.S. Earlier this month, Archer signed on to a battery cell testing partnership with NASA.
Once Midnight is certified, Archer is charting routes in the U.S. in partnership with United Airlines in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and other cities with United hub airports. Air taxis would connect passengers in the Chicago suburbs to Chicago O’Hare International Airport (KORD) and those in downtown Manhattan to Newark Liberty International Airport (KEWR), for example. United also has hub locations in Denver, Houston, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
United was Archer’s first commercial customer, but the firm announced its second and third buyers in November. Indian travel conglomerate InterGlobe will order 200 Midnight air taxis for an undisclosed fee, while Emirati heliport operator Air Chateau agreed to acquire 100 aircraft for about $500 million.
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