Archer Aviation has nearly completed the assembly of its first Midnight eVTOL air taxi and plans to fly it for the first time this summer, the company announced Thursday. After revealing a non-flying mockup of Midnight in November, the company now has now built its first fully functional Midnight aircraft and shipped it to a flight testing facility where it will undergo a series of ground tests before its inaugural flight.
“All major aerostructures—that, is the wing, tail, fuselage, etc.—have been built and mated together,” Archer founder and CEO Adam Goldstein told investors during a quarterly earnings call on Thursday. “Our team has installed a significant portion of the wiring, electronics, actuators, and other systems, and we are currently targeting to begin our flight test campaign with this aircraft in mid-2023.”
According to Archer, the new Midnight aircraft departed from the company’s headquarters in Palo Alto, California, last week and has since arrived at the flight test facility near Salinas Municipal Airport in Salinas, California. Archer will use this aircraft to perform what it calls critical “company testing” that will help it prepare for the FAA certification testing process, which is scheduled to begin in early 2024—one year before Archer plans to launch its commercial operations.
For FAA type certification testing, Archer has already begun building six additional “FAA-conforming” Midnight aircraft at its pilot manufacturing facility in San Jose, California. The first of these is expected to be completely assembled by the end of this year, Goldstein said, adding that Archer plans to use that aircraft for the first piloted flight tests in early 2024. Until then, all Midnight flight tests will be remotely piloted.
Archer chief operating officer Tom Muniz explained during Thursday's call with investors that the Midnight aircraft used for the initial flight test campaign will be nearly identical to the six FAA-conforming aircraft. “The geometry is very similar, the aero performance is very similar, powertrain components—it's all essentially the same as it will be on the certified aircraft,” he said. "All the testing we do there gives us confidence that we will be able to go efficiently through the for-credit testing with FAA.”
Archer closed the first quarter of 2023 in strong financial standing, with cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments totaling nearly $450 million. Its manufacturing partner, Stellantis, has also committed to providing Archer with up to $150 million in capital, pending specific program milestones. The company's total operating expenses in the first quarter added up to $112 million, nearly $4 million more than it reported in the fourth quarter of 2022. The increased spending was “primarily due to increased investment made in people, materials, and engineering services to support our Midnight development program,” Archer wrote in its shareholder letter.
Archer Forms Government Services Advisory Board
As Archer works toward getting its four-seat air taxi certified and in commercial service by 2025, it also is fortifying its engagement with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to pursue possible military applications for the eVTOL aircraft. On Wednesday the company announced the formation of its new Government Services Advisory Board.
Staffed mostly by retired military officers, the advisory board will help Archer expand its relationship with the DoD and explore non-kinetic defense applications for its aircraft, such as cargo logistics and rescue operations. The six retired military officials on Archer’s Government Services Advisory Board previously served in the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy. They include Lt. Gen. David A. Krumm, Vice Adm. Ron Boxall, Gen. Clayton M. Hutmacher, Gen. Bill Gayler, Gen. Steve Townsend, and Chief Warrant Officer Michael J. Durant.
“We understand the importance of fostering strong and purposeful relationships across the whole of government to enable and support the safe integration of eVTOL aircraft in the U.S.,” Goldstein said in a written statement. “The development and commercialization of [advanced air mobility] technologies must remain a strategic national priority, and having such decorated and informed military veterans advising us will help us ensure that is the case.”
According to Archer, the Midnight aircraft has garnered “significant interest” from the DoD as a result of its performance specifications—specifically its 1,000-pound (450 kilograms) payload capacity. The company has already won several contracts from the USAF and its Afwerx Agility Prime Office, which aim to foster innovation in the defense sector by collaborating with small commercial companies on relevant research and development efforts.
The USAF has worked with Archer since September 2021, when the company was preparing for the first test flights of its two-seat Maker technology demonstrator. As part of that initial agreement, Archer has been providing the USAF with data from Maker’s flight test campaign, which started in December 2021. Archer also has signed a number of small business innovation research (SBIR) and small business technology transfer (STTR) contracts with the USAF. The SBIR/STTR contracts cover some specific elements of eVTOL aircraft design and operations, such as noise-abatement efforts and precision-landing technology.
Although the primary focus of the new Government Services Advisory Board will be to increase the scope of Archer's relations with the DoD, it won't be limited to just defense discussions. “In addition to expanding our relationship with the DoD, we are also in the early stages of exploring similar potential opportunities with public safety agencies across the U.S.,” a company spokesperson told FutureFlight.
While Archer tries to step up its involvement with the DoD, the company remains focused on delivering a product for civilian applications. In addition to manufacturing the aircraft and selling it to third-party operators, Archer also plans to operate its own air taxi service using a fleet of Midnight aircraft. In partnership with United Airlines, the company has already announced air taxi routes in Chicago and New York City that will carry passengers between city centers and major airports.
Although Midnight will fly to a maximum range of around 100 miles (160 kilometers) on a single charge, Archer plans to mostly use the aircraft for shorter, successive flights of around 20 miles (32 kilometers). Archer's air taxi business will allow passengers to drastically reduce their travel time by flying over ground traffic in congested areas while paying about the same price per mile as a premium ride-sharing service like Uber Black. Initially, Archer will focus on introducing airport-to-city-center routes like the ones in Chicago and New York City, which the company refers to as “trunk routes.” As its operations expand and it builds more aircraft, Archer plans to add more “branch routes” connecting suburbs to city centers.