The US military is preparing to enter the age of electric aviation.
The US Air Force (USAF) recently took possession of its first-ever electric aircraft charging station, which Vermont-based aerospace start-up Beta Technologies installed at Eglin AFB in Florida.
Beta on 14 September said the proprietary, level 3 fast charging station will be used to support on-site electric vehicle experimentation by the USAF. The developer of electric aircraft has been under contract with the service’s AFWERX technology incubator since 2020, under the Agility Prime electric aviation initiative.
“Charging station installation is a critical step to unleash test and experimentation,” says Major Anthony Zartman, team lead at AFWERX for Agility Prime. “Two charging test sites will be set up by the end of the calendar year, marking the first multi-modal charging capabilities for the air force.”
Beta plans to deploy one of the company’s experimental Alia aircraft to Eglin this autumn, where the fully-electric vehicle will be used to “assess the viable mission sets and applicability of Beta’s electric aircraft and chargers”.
The start-up is developing the crewed, all-electric Alia design in conventional and vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) variants. The USAF awarded Alia military airworthiness approval in 2021 under the Agility Prime programme.
The designation has allowed Beta to begin crewed flights of its experimental aircraft, including the electric aerospace industry’s only qualitative evaluation sorties made with uniformed test pilots from the US Army and USAF.
Beta says the recently installed charger will be capable of fully charging an aircraft in less than an hour. The Eglin facility is Beta’s 13th active charging station in the USA, with the company developing an additional 55 such sites across the eastern half of the country.
“The installation of this charger is an enabling step as the Department of Defense looks to transition to a more sustainable fleet,” says Beta founder and chief executive Kyle Clark. “We look forward to using it to charge our aircraft later this year during planned on-base experimentation with the air force.”
In addition to military usage, Beta is also pursuing type certification for Alia with US civil regulators at the Federal Aviation Administration. The company says it anticipates a 2025 entry into service for the conventional take-off Alia variant, with approval for the eVTOL Alia coming in 2026.
Beta plans to begin full-scale aircraft production this year at the company’s manufacturing facility in South Burlington, Vermont.
The company has order commitments for up to 350 Alias from customers including US freight delivery service UPS, Dublin-headquartered helicopter lessor LCI, New York area urban air mobility provider Blade and Texas-based vertical lift services provider Bristow Group.