The U.S. Air Force (USAF) is to receive up to six of Archer Aviation’s Midnight eVTOL aircraft under the terms of new contracts the manufacturer said are worth up to $142 million. The agreement, announced on July 31, builds on a partnership between the Department of Defense (DoD) and the California-based company that since 2021 has covered a series of projects intended to assess military use cases for the vehicle Archer intends to bring to market in 2025.
The Small Business Innovative Research Phase III contract follows earlier Phase I and II contracts that Archer was awarded to support the USAF’s Afwerx Agility Prime programs. For fiscal year 2023, Afwerx is committed to spending just under $1.3 million for research, development, test, and evaluation work that will be conducted in San Jose, California.
The summary listing on the DoD website refers to a $111 million “firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for Midnight Based Advanced Vertical Lift.” Under the terms of the Phase III contract, Archer and Afwerx will conduct “operational experimentation” on eVTOL vehicles operated by the USAF to “substantiate government use cases, concept of operations/mission design, and cost/benefit analyses of the Midnight aircraft.”
Archer and the Ohio-based Afwerx team have not said when the first Midnight aircraft will be delivered to the USAF. The Phase III contract work is due to be completed by July 31, 2028.
First Midnight Prototype Is Being Prepared for Flight Testing
The Archer vehicle is expected to offer a payload of around 1,000 pounds and could be used to carry military personnel and/or equipment. In May, the company completed manufacturing the first full-scale prototype and is now preparing it to start flight testing.
“It is our mission to ensure the U.S. continues to lead the world in developing and deploying emerging aerospace technology,” said Col. Tom Meagher, who leads the Afwerx Agility Prime programs. He added that “eVTOL aircraft represent the cusp of the third revolution in aerospace and these aircraft and their descendants will drive advances in capabilities and efficiency. Our contracts with Archer Aviation provide the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force the opportunity to play a role in ensuring from the onset, and as the technology evolves, that we unlock the many benefits these aircraft have to offer the U.S. military.”
In April, rival eVTOL developer Joby Aviation secured an Agility Prime contract extension that covers the delivery of up to nine of its aircraft, with the first two expected to arrive at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California by early 2024. According to Joby, the total potential value of its DoD contracts now starts at $131 million, with the latest award valued at $55 million.
The Afwerx Agility Prime programs have involved numerous other advanced air mobility pioneers as the Pentagon seeks to assess the potential for electric aviation and increasingly autonomous flight controls to transform military air support functions. These companies include Beta Technologies, Electra.aero, Xwing, Jaunt Air Mobility, Transcend Air, and JetOptera.
In May, Archer established a Government Services Advisory Board to support its work with the Pentagon. The board includes the following retired military staff: four-star General Steve Townsend, three-star Lieutenant General David Krumm, three-star Vice Admiral Ron Boxall, two-star General Clayton Hutmacher, two-star General Bill Gayler, and Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant.