The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has awarded military airworthiness approval for the Alia 250 eVTOL aircraft being developed by Beta Technologies. The company’s flight-test program for the six-seat model will contribute data for the air force’s Agility Prime program to assess the suitability of advanced air mobility technology for military missions.
For more than a year, the USAF has been evaluating the Alia in terms of its engineering, operational, and flight-test capabilities against the U.S. military’s 516c airworthiness certification criteria. Under an Agility Prime contract, the Alia will help the air force assess possible procurement requirements.
Beta has commitments from express delivery group UPS to buy 150 Alia eVTOLs, with first deliveries targeted for 2024. Blade Urban Air Mobility intends to add up to 20 to its passenger transportation network and these will be acquired via its partner operators.
In December 2020, the USAF issued airworthiness approval to Joby Aviation’s eVTOL prototype. The five-seat design has started conducting flight testing under an Agility Prime contract as it aims to enter commercial service in 2024.
Under the terms of its military flight release, the Joby aircraft is conducting unmanned operations with both vertical and conventional takeoffs and landings. The FAA has approved it for piloted experimental flight.
Vermont-based Beta also will provide the USAF with access to its simulation and training facilities to allow them to test the Alia for various possible missions. Beta has equipped an advanced urban air mobility simulator near the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in Springfield, Ohio, which is convenient for the air force's technical acquisition team, and another test facility in Washington, D.C., that can be used by senior air force officers to evaluate the technology. The high fidelity simulators can generate scenarios to take account of any weather, emergency handling, and battle damage conditions, as well as supporting advanced mission scenario simulation. Beta has also installed battery recharging units at the Springfield site to support test flights.
AFRL engineers will conduct dynamic structural analysis on an Alia prototype using their ground-vibration testing methods. The data generated from this will be used to safely advance the aircraft’s flight-test program, as well as giving the USAF a more complete understanding of the design.
Last month, the FAA gave approval for the Alia to fly beyond its designated test area in Plattsburgh, New York. This cleared the way for flights to and from that facility at the company’s headquarters in nearby South Burlington, and the aircraft already has completed flights of more than 140 miles and at altitudes of around 8,000 feet.
Agility Prime is intended to accelerate the development and commercialization of advanced air mobility technology that could have military applications. According to Col. Nathan Diller, director of the USAF’s Afwerx unit, the Alia is the first aircraft to have been issued with airworthiness authorization for manned flights. “This not only unlocks the opportunity to begin Air Force-directed manned flight tests, but it also shows the high level of maturity of this technology and the high level of maturity of Agility Prime partner companies like Beta,” he commented.
“Electric aviation is a national security priority and fortunately this was recognized early by the Air Force,” said Beta Technologies founder and CEO Kyle Clark. “The speed and efficiency of the Air Force Agility Prime program to support sustainable electric aviation has been remarkable. The people and expertise that the Air Force has brought to the electric aviation industry—and specifically our Alia program—is accelerating the development of incredibly capable, safe, and reliable aircraft.”