Beta Technologies is trialing a new HUMS system on its Alia prototype aircraft.
- November 30, 2019
As of mid-January 2019, when Beta Technologies first revealed the program to media, the Ava XC prototype had completed 176 test flights. At least another 50 more were completed that year before the company confirmed that the aircraft had only ever been intended as a technology demonstrator for the propulsion system it intended to deploy on a new eVTOL design.
This plan went semi-public on November 22, 2019, Beta founder Kyle Clark released some details about a new eVTOL model called the Alia to an invitation-only event called TexasUP held at Ross Perot Jr.'s ranch in Westlake, Texas. The design architecture of Alia is very different from Ava XC, with four fixed rotors installed above the fuselage and a pusher propeller in place of the Ava XC's eight propellers. Beta has indicated that the all-electric Alia will fly further than its sibling at up to around 250 miles. It has confirmed that the Alia prototype is being fitted with the new Foresight health and usage monitoring system developed specifically for eVTOL aircraft by Vermont-based GPMS.
In June 2020, when Beta unveiled the Alia prototype at its headquarters in Burlington, Vermont, it became clear that the new model has become the focus of the company's ambitions in the eVTOL sector, and that the Ava XC was in fact used as a technology demonstrator for various aspects of the planned propulsion system. The Alia has been selected by the U.S. Air Force to participate in its Agility Prime technology demonstrator program. Beta claims to have airworthiness approval for the Alia, but it has not published any timeline for type certification and service entry. Majority shareholder United Therapeutics has already committed to using the Alia for delivering organs for transplant and passenger-carrying air taxi flights have been identified as a potential role for the distinctive design. The Alia will offer 200 cubic feet of cargo space and will have room for six passengers.
Beta intends to conduct flight testing in Plattsburgh, New York, having ferried the Alia prototype across Lake Champlain carried by a Sikorksy S-61 helicopter on June 12, 2020.
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Like many eVTOL start-ups, Beta Technologies has provided very little information on its plans. The company was almost completely undiscovered until January 2019 when it invited a handful of journalists to witness a test flight by the Ava XC. This resulted in somewhat conflicting and incomplete summaries of where the program stands, but did provide a tantalising glimpse of a design that appears to be based on solid engineering expertise. A key aspect of this ambiguity is whether the Ava XC is a prototype for the production aircraft itself or whether it is simply a technology demonstrator that will lead to a new design. In any case, Beta reportedly believes it can get an aircraft into production during 2024.
According to company founder Kyle Clark, U.S. biotechnology group United Therapeutics (founded by SiriusXM founder Martine Rothblatt) has provided an undisclosed amount of financial backing. United Therapeutics has reportedly committed to using the Alia for transporting organs for transplant.
The strategically leaked reveal of the Alia model in 2019 shed no more light on Beta's envisaged timelines for type certification and service entry. The fact that the Beta founder presented at the TexasUP event would suggest that he may be in the market for further funding since the gathering included a good number of deep-pocketed individuals. The company's selection by the U.S. Air Force's Agility Prime technology development could also provide a platform for fund-raising. However, the company's lack of transparency over key aspects of the program could prove to be an obstacle to winning further support.
As of mid-January 2019, when Beta Technologies first revealed the program to the media, the Ava XC prototype had completed 176 test flights. Around 50 more were anticipated before it was to embark on a cross-U.S. flight in the summer of 2019, at which time, the company said it was targeting production to begin in 2024. However, in June 2020, the company confirmed that it has switched its attention to a new design called the Alia, and now appears to have used the Ava XC purely as a technology demonstrator.
The aircraft is powered by eight 143-hp motors and eight propellers that rotate from horizontal to 90 degrees vertical. Power comes from two 124 kWh batteries.