Archer is a California-based startup that on May 21, 2020, announced plans to develop an all-electric, four-seat, fixed-wing eVTOL aircraft to fly up to around 60 miles at up to 150 mph. The company has yet to complete the detailed design phase of this program, but it aims to have the initial production version of its eVTOL, called Midnight, enter service in 2025.
Archer has conducted flight tests with a number of subscale models, most notably its two-seat Maker technology demonstrator, which completed its first test flight in December 2021. The Maker is being used to help the company complete the development of the four-passenger vehicle with which it intends to launch commercial services by 2025.
Maker didn't conduct any test flights for six months after its initial hover test, but test flights resumed in June 2022. While it was temporarily grounded, Archer brought the aircraft to a wind tunnel to test full-scale electric motor and propeller combinations for both the forward tilting propellers and the aft lifter propellers. In addition to evaluating these elements individually, the units were mounted on full-scale boom, which was then attached to a wing section for testing in the wind tunnel, generating computational fluid dynamics data to support work to complete the design of the full-scale aircraft.
In August 2022, the company said it completed two of the three phases of Maker’s flight testing program. The first phase involved a series of hover flights. The second involved what the company calls “critical azimuth” testing, in which Maker flew in various directions and attitudes to test its configuration and flight control systems in various simulated wind conditions. The third phase involved the first full transition flights, in which the aircraft transitions from hover mode to full wing-borne cruise flight. Archer announced that Maker had completed the first full transition flight on Nov. 29, 2022.
Evidently, Archer's backers have a long-term vision for the eVTOL/urban air mobility sector that could span 10 to 20 years. The company intends to seek type certification under EASA's Special Conditions rules, which will limit its maximum takeoff weight to 7,000 pounds. Since its founding in January 2020, Archer has recruited a team of more than 40 engineers, including some proven leaders from rival programs such as Joby Aviation and Airbus Vahana.
In September 2020, Piper Aircraft launched legal action in Delaware accusing Archer Aviation of infringing its trademark on the name Archer, which it has used for a light aircraft model it first introduced 1976. Archer is also facing a lawsuit with eVTOL competitor Wisk Aero. In mid-2021, a legal dispute arose between Archer Aviation and Wisk, after Wisk set forth allegations that its rival stole trade secrets from former Wisk employees, largely based on the aircraft's rapid development timeline. Archer refuted this claim by stating there was no tangible evidence to suggest such a case, and that Archer never received such protected intellectual property. The legal battle continues in the federal court for the Northern District of California.
In January 2021, U.S. carmaker Fiat Chrysler announced a partnership to support Archer with composite materials and engineering expertise. It did not say whether it is investing directly in the program or simply participating on a risk-sharing basis. Also unclear is whether or how Fiat Chrysler may be involved in manufacturing Archer's eVTOL aircraft.
In February 2021, in an effort to aim more capital, Archer announced a merger with the SPAC Atlas Crest Investment Corp. and plans for a New York Stock Exchange flotation, in addition to a provisional order of up to 200 aircraft from United Airlines. The SPAC deal closed in September 2021 with the combined company raising just under $850 million. Archer also joined Los Angeles' Urban Air Mobility Partnership, formed in December 2020 by mayor Eric Garcetti, to prepare for its upcoming commercial debut.
In April 2022, Archer announced that composite materials specialist Hexcel will be a production partner for the company's eVTOL program. Hexcel will provide high-performance carbon fiber materials and resins needed to fabricate composite airframe structures for the eVTOL aircraft. Also in April, United Airlines, an investor and customer of Archer Aviation, joined Archer to form an eVTOL aircraft advisory committee. The committee will advise Archer on maintenance and operational arrangements for its eVTOL design. The committee includes 10 executives from both companies and is chaired by the managing director of United Express TechOps strategy and operations Mauricio Angel and Archer vice president of engineering Dave Dennison.
Following Archer co-founder and co-CEO Brett Adcock's decision to leave his position as co-CEO in April 2022, Adcock announced in May that he had resigned from the Archer board. In a deleted tweet, Adcock indicated that he did not support the director's vision for the company.
In July 2022, Archer announced that Austrian manufacturer FACC will contribute lightweight wing and fuselage elements for the eVTOL. Later in July, Archer found the manufacturer of the flight control actuation and thermal management systems for its eVTOL in Honeywell Aerospace.
United Airlines is the first customer to place a down payment for Archer's eVTOL aircraft. On August 10, 2022, Archer reported that it had received a $10 million down payment from United for the first 100 of 200 production eVTOLs United had provisionally agreed to buy in February 2021. Archer said the deal represents one of the first of its kind for the budding eVTOL industry. United and Archer have so far announced two routes where Midnight will transport passengers between major United airport hubs and city centers, including Chicago and New York City. Archer has also previously committed to launching operations in Los Angeles and Miami, but specific routes in those cities have yet to be identified.
Archer announced in August 2022 that it had completed the preliminary design review for the initial production aircraft called Midnight. The company also updated some of the specifications for its planned aircraft. Midnight is expected to have a range of up to 100 miles (160 kilometers) on a single charge, and Archer says it expects the fully electric aircraft to conduct successive 20-mile flights with only 10 minutes of charging time in between. It will seat four passengers plus a pilot and can carry payloads up to 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms).
When it completed the preliminary design review, Archer reported that the FAA had already approved many of its means of compliance for the Midnight eVTOL and that it expects to come to an agreement over the remainder of the means of compliance by the end of 2022. The FAA approved Archer’s certification basis in September 2021, and it published its proposed airworthiness criteria for Midnight in December 2022.