Will Roper, the former U.S. Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition, is joining the board of eVTOL aircraft developer Beta Technologies. In a July 13 announcement, the company also named Edward Eppler, the former head of aerospace and defense investment banking with Goldman Sachs, as its chief financial officer.
During his time with the U.S. Defense Department, from 2018 through January 2021, Roper was a strong advocate for military applications for eVTOL aircraft and their supporting technologies. He was behind the launch of the Agility Prime run by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Afwerx unit, which is supporting partnerships with industry to stimulate research and development work to advance civil-military use cases.
In recent weeks, 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.
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.
Medical group United Therapeutics, which is 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 March, Beta started the next phase of flight testing for the Alia prototype and in May the U.S. Air Force granted the aircraft military airworthiness approval, clearing the way for manned flight trials under an Agility Prime contract. Last week, 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 has also conducted flights between a pair of public airports, flying from Plattsburgh in upstate New York to Burlington International Airport in Vermont.
Roper joins a board of directors that already includes United Therapeutics CEO Martine Rothblatt, Stone Point Capital CEO Chuck Davis, Dean Kamen of Deka Research and First Robotics, and John Abele, co-founder of Boston Scientific. He recently became CEO of commercial drone company Volansi, whose business Beta considers to be "complementary" to its own.
“Supporting the military allowed me to work with many first-of-its-kind technologies,” commented Roper, who previously led the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office and was acting chief architect at the Missile Defense Agency. “Joining Beta’s board continues this by spearheading the first sustainable, reliable electric aviation ecosystem. What Beta is building requires vision, but it’s the company’s technological innovation and approach to design and certification that is making this vision reality. I’m proud to join a team that is pushing boundaries and leveraging military programs as a means to do it. This is what I hoped for when starting Agility Prime.”
Eppler comes to Beta after a 30-year career in investment banking, with expertise in mergers and acquisitions, as well as private and public financing campaigns. Prior to his time with Goldman Sachs, he was a partner at Moelis & Company.
The Beta team already includes engineers and specialists from organizations including electric automobile pioneer Tesla, Honeywell, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce, SpaceX, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Electric, the FAA, and the U.S. Navy. All employees are encouraged to become licensed pilots and to fly the company’s diverse fleet of aircraft to gain first-hand insight into design, performance, and operational considerations.