Silicon Valley air taxi developer Archer Aviation has revealed its new aircraft called “Midnight”, which it plans to certify for commercial operations in 2024.
The company unveiled a mock-up of the production vehicle on 17 November at its Palo Alto headquarters. It is Archer’s second electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) airframe, and the one the company hopes will help it launch a new “golden age of aviation”.
“From day one Archer’s strategy has always been about finding the most efficient path to commercialising eVTOL aircraft,” says Archer chief executive Adam Goldstein. “We want to be the first company in the US to bring an eVTOL aircraft to market.”
The company’s first aircraft, Maker, introduced in June 2021, has performed hundreds of flights in preparation for Midnight’s flight-test and certification campaign. Maker completed its maiden hover flight on 16 December 2021, and is scheduled to complete a full transition flight in “the coming weeks”, Archer adds.
The new design is larger, with room for four passengers and a pilot, and has 12 wing-mounted rotors and a V-tail, similar to Maker. The aircraft can take off vertically, and its six front rotors will tilt to a horizontal position when it transitions to forward flight.
Midnight is optimized for back-to-back trips of about 20 miles (30km), with a charging time of approximately 10min, the company says. It will be able to carry a payload of over 450kg (1,000lb). The maiden flight is scheduled for the first half of 2023.
Archer said in August that it had completed its preliminary design review of Midnight earlier than expected. Its maturity gave the company “confidence that our technology supports our commercial objectives”, Goldstein indicated.
But speaking on 17 November, he added: “We’ve done a lot of the work to set the groundwork for the certification of Midnight.
“We’ve gotten through our certification basis, we’re mostly through the means of compliance, and pretty far along through the subject-specific certification plans.”
Archer’s timeline to be the first air taxi company to have a vehicle certified by the Federal Aviation Administration is aggressive. It is aiming to have its means of compliance accepted by the US regulator by the end of this year, with 18 subject-specific certification plans submitted to the FAA by the first half of 2023. Goldstein says that the FAA could approve those plans as early as the second half of next year, paving the path to type certification by the second half of 2024.
In addition to the new airframe, Archer outlined Midnight’s mid-term commercialisation strategy. In the first years, the company plans to “build out urban air mobility… focused on trunk and branch” routes in large cities, using existing infrastructure such as heliports and airports, and to replace louder, fossil-fuel-burning helicopters.
Goldstein says that data shows there is a “sizeable market opportunity” in routes that are between 10-50 miles long in large metropolitan areas, where the equivalent journey by ground transportation takes 60-90min. He notes two examples: in Los Angeles, five million people spend more than an hour a day travelling less than 20 miles; and in New York City, 30 million people travel to the metropolitan area’s three major airports every year.
“I think helicopter replacement is a really attractive go-to-market strategy, and I see a lot of that start to take place within this same timeframe,” Goldstein says.
After 2028 and beyond, Archer aims to significantly scale up production.
“When we hit the 2028 timeframe, we believe that demand will be there, we’ll be able to scale up [production of] these vehicles and ultimately bring thousands of vehicles to market,” Goldstein says. “There’s so much room to grow this industry, there’s so much room for multiple players to get to market.”
Last week, Archer and Chicago-based United Airlines said they would launch their first airport-to-downtown urban air mobility (UAM) route in the New York City metropolitan area in 2025, after the FAA has given the aircraft its blessing. United has already made pre-delivery payments of $10 million for 100 airframes.
The first route would connect Newark’s Liberty International airport in New Jersey to Downtown Manhattan Heliport, located at the southern tip of Manhattan near the city’s financial centre. The company said that the flight, covering a distance of about 7nm (12.6km), would take “less than 10 minutes”.
Archer aims to attract other major commercial airlines to this concept, but also doesn’t rule out an “Archer-branded airline”.
“We’re engaged in conversations with other major US airlines about the potential sale of aircraft and launch of strategic routes together,” Goldstein says.
Earlier this week, Archer said it would build its first manufacturing facility in Covington, Georgia, about 50 miles southeast of Atlanta, creating up to 1,000 jobs in the region. It will invest $118 million in the facility over the next three years, 33% of which will be financed by incentives including tax breaks and a grant from the state of Georgia.