Former U.S. Air Force Assistant Secretary Will Roper, who launched the Agility Prime program to advance joint military and civil applications for eVTOL aircraft, is joining the board of Beta Technologies.
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. 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.
In March of 2021, Beta began the next phase of flight testing for the Alia prototype, with the U.S. Air Force granting the aircraft military airworthiness approval in May, clearing the way for manned flight trials under an Agility Prime contract.
As of late June, Vermont-based Beta’s plans to bring the Alia 250 eVTOL model to market in 2024 have been boosted by commitments from prospective customers Blade Urban Air Mobility and express delivery group UPS to buy up to 170 aircraft. The company is seeking type certification under the FAA’s Part 23 rules. Medical group United Therapeutics, which is also an investor in Beta, has previously committed to using the Alia for transporting human organs for transplants. Other financial backers for a recent $380 million Series A funding round include institutional investors led by Fidelity and Amazon’s Carbon Pledge Fund.
In July of 2021, the company completed a flight of 205 miles using only three of the Alia’s five battery packs, which are installed in the center of the fuselage for easy access. It is developing equipment to fully recharge the aircraft in around 50 minutes. It had also conducted flights between a pair of public airports, flying from Plattsburgh in upstate New York to Burlington International Airport in Vermont. On a full charge, the $4 million, all-electric Alia will be able to operate on routes of up to 288 miles, carrying six people (including a pilot) or three standard cargo pallets at speeds of up to 170 mph. The design features four fixed-pitch vertical lift propellers mounted on beams connected at the wing and a pusher propeller at the rear of the fuselage.
In July the Beta Technologies also announced that Will Roper, former U.S. Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition and one of the individuals behind the launch of Agility Prime, is joining its executive board. They also named Edward Eppler, former head of aerospace and defense investment banking with Goldman Sachs, as its chief financial officer. Roper's appointment suggests a possible future for the Alia eVTOL in military applications, in addition to its already planned medical and passenger uses.