Vermont-based Beta Technologies has delivered its first fully-electric aircraft to the US military.
The electric aviation manufacturer on 26 October said one of the company’s Alia types has safely landed at Eglin AFB in Florida, completing a more than 1,700nm (3,150km) multi-stage flight through 12 states along the USA’s eastern coastline.
Beta is under contract with the US Air Force (USAF) as part of the service’s Agility Prime programme, exploring potential military applications for electric aircraft. Agility Prime is being administered by the USAF’s AFWERX technology incubator.
“For the past several years, AFWERX has provided critical input and support to the Beta programs,” says Beta founder and chief executive Kyle Clark. “Deploying Alia for experimentation and training at Duke Field is the natural next step in our partnership.”
Duke Field is an annex of Eglin AFB, located in Florida’s panhandle region. As part of the lead up to the deployment, Beta also installed a flight simulator and the USAF’s first electric aircraft charging station at the facility.
While Alia operates from Eglin AFB, Beta says it will attempt to demonstrate the “economic, sustainability and energy independence benefits of electric aviation” for the USAF.
“The Department of the Air Force is constantly searching for the next generation of technology to make our war fighters safer and more efficient,” says Colonel Elliott Leigh, AFWERX director and the USAF’s chief commercialisation officer. “We believe that partnering with American businesses is the key to this goal for delivering disruptive air capabilities.”
Under Agility Prime, AFWERX has contracted with other prominent players in the electric aviation space, including Archer, Joby and Pipistrel.
During the trials, Beta flight crews will work with air force test pilots from the 413th Flight Test Squadron, which overseas rotary aviation trials.
Major Riley Livermore, a flight commander in the squadron, says the group will organise daily flight operations and logistics support for the Alia assessment. USAF pilots will then prepare a report for AFWERX at the conclusion of the deployment.
Beta has been under contract with AFWERX since 2020 to deliver the Alia for trials. The company received military airworthiness certification for the Alia, which has allowed Beta to conduct regular crewed flights of the experimental aircraft around its home base in northern Vermont.
While the Alia that was delivered to the USAF is a conventional take-off variant, Beta is also developing a fully-electric vertical take-off and landing version of the type.
The company is pursuing civil airworthiness approval for Alia from the Federal Aviation Administration, and anticipates the all-electric design entering service in 2025 or 2026.
Ahead of that milestone, Beta has been installing a network of high-speed chargers throughout the eastern US. The company currently has 14 active charging stations, with 60 additional sites under development across the country.
To date, the Alia boasts a range of 336nm on a single charge. Beta says its charging stations can top off the aircraft’s batteries in under an hour.