Archer Aviation has publicly revealed its Midnight aircraft, the production version of the four-seat eVTOL air taxi the company aims to get into commercial service in 2025. Archer and customers such as United Airlines will use the all-electric aircraft to carry passengers around busy urban areas, including to and from airports.
As expected, the aircraft bears many similarities to Archer’s subscale Maker technology demonstrator, a two-seat prototype that the company has been flight testing extensively over the past year. Both are fixed-wing models with 12 rotors. Six stationary propellers on the back of the wing provide lift, while the other six rotors on the front of the wing tilt forward to transition from hover to cruise flight.
The most notable difference between the two aircraft is that Midnight is much larger than Maker. Not only does Midnight seat twice as many passengers but it also has a longer wingspan. The two-seat Maker has a wingspan of 40 feet and weighs about 3,500 pounds, while Midnight has a wingspan of 47 feet and weighs close to 6,500 pounds.
Archer said the production version of Midnight will have a payload of over 1,000 pounds. With FAA weight and carry-on baggage allowances of 200 pounds for men and 179 pounds for women, this implies that there would be little margin for additional luggage on flights with all four passenger seats filled for single-pilot operations. The company said the aircraft will be optimized for back-to-back 20-mile trips, with around 10 minutes allowed for recharging batteries between flights.
On November 16, before Archer revealed the first Midnight aircraft at its Palo Alto facility in Silicon Valley, the company conducted a flight demonstration with one of its two Maker prototypes. Onlookers at the Salinas Municipal Airport cheered as the aircraft took off vertically, transitioned from hover to partially wing-borne flight, and flew a couple of laps overhead before returning for a vertical touchdown.
During this demonstration, Maker's rotors didn't completely tilt forward for a full transition to wing-borne flight but were tilted about 20 degrees to provide some vertical lift in addition to the lift provided by the wing. Archer is planning to have Maker transition to fully wing-borne flight before the end of this year.
While Archer has conducted extensive flight tests with Maker since its debut in December 2021, Midnight has yet to take off. Archer CEO Adam Goldstein told FutureFlight that he expects Midnight’s flight-testing campaign to begin in the first half of 2023, and Maker will be retired shortly thereafter. But first, Midnight must pass its critical design review, which the company expects to complete in early 2023 as well. In August, Archer told investors it had completed the aircraft's preliminary design review.
In a call with investors last week, Archer CEO Adam Goldstein boldly stated that he believes Archer will be the first eVTOL developer to get its new aircraft FAA-certified. Archer and several of the company’s competitors expect to achieve type certification in 2024, and Archer has said it plans to have a fleet of Midnight aircraft enter service in 2025.
Earlier this month, rival urban air mobility pioneer Joby told its shareholders that it is pushing back the launch of commercial air taxi services into 2025 after concluding that the FAA type certification process likely cannot be completed until late 2024. This mirrors Archer's assessment of the certification timeline, but, Joby, which has been working on its plans for 10 years, appears to be further along in the U.S. regulator's approval process.
Like other eVTOL aircraft developers, Archer claims that its electric propulsion system is safer and, with fewer moving parts, is less costly to maintain than turbine or piston engines used by current helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. It said that Midnight has no single critical points of failure, "meaning that should any single component fail, the aircraft can still safely complete its flight."
According to Archer, its eVTOL vehicle will cruise at around 2,000 feet, generating noise levels of 45 dBA on the ground, which would be significantly quieter than current helicopters. Joby has made similar claims for its eVTOL model and, in flight trials, has set out to prove how much quieter it will be than existing aircraft.
This week, Archer also announced two key suppliers for the program, with U.S. avionics group Garmin selected to provide its G3000 integrated flight deck for the aircraft and Taiwan's Molicel chosen as the source for its lithium-ion battery cells. Archer says it has now appointed almost two-thirds of the partners that will help build Midnight, with other suppliers including Honeywell (flight control actuators and thermal management), Mecaer (landing gear), FACC (parts of the fuselage and wing), and Hexcel (composites).
United Airlines—which is an investor in Archer and earlier this year placed a $10 million down payment on 100 Midnight aircraft—recently announced plans to launch eVTOL air taxi services from Manhattan to New York-area Newark Liberty International Airport. Along with several competitors, including Joby, Archer intends to operate its own ride-hailing services in major cities that could include Los Angeles and Miami. This will require companies with no experience in commercial air services to secure Part 135 certification from the FAA, while also working toward type certification for their aircraft.
"We continue to push towards commercialization, with the vast majority of our resources focused on completing the development and certification of Midnight, building out our manufacturing and supply chain capabilities, and hardening our go-to-market plans," commented Archer CFO Mark Mesler.