Bristow has conducted its first flight test with Beta Technologies’ Alia aircraft, one of several new advanced air mobility (AAM) vehicles that the helicopter operator intends to add to its worldwide fleet of rotorcraft. A senior pilot from Bristow took the Alia prototype out for a spin on August 22 to conduct a “qualitative evaluation” of the six-seat air taxi, Beta announced today.
With Bristow’s AAM program manager Bryan Willows at the helm (accompanied by Beta test pilot Chris Caputo), the aircraft took off from Beta’s flight test center in Plattsburgh, New York at 10:30 a.m. local time and clocked about 55 minutes in the air. “During the flight, Willows completed a standard flight profile featuring stalls, slow flight, and takeoffs/landings,” a Beta spokesperson told AIN in an emailed statement.
This marks the first time that a commercial customer has flown the Alia, following earlier flight trials conducted by FAA, Air Force, and Army test pilots. According to Beta, Willows is the seventh non-Beta pilot to fly the aircraft. Willows, a former Marine Corps pilot, joined Bristow in 2019 as the manager of its powered-lift program before moving over to the AAM division in 2022.
Beta Technologies, which is headquartered in Vermont, is developing two iterations of its all-electric Alia air taxi: one with vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) capabilities, and another conventional-takeoff-and-landing (CTOL) model—aka an airplane. Bristow plans to operate both versions of the aircraft.
Until recently, Beta was planning to only certify its eVTOL aircraft, called the Alia-250, while flying a CTOL prototype strictly for testing purposes. In March, Beta announced it would certify the CTOL model, called the CX300, in addition to the eVTOL version. The company is now working to certify the CX300 under the FAA’s Part 23 rules for small airplanes, while the Alia-250 will be certified under the new 21.17 (b) rules for powered lift aircraft. Beta aims to certify and begin delivering the CX300 to customers in 2025, with certification and first deliveries of the Alia-250 to follow in 2026.
Bristow operates a worldwide fleet of more than 240 rotorcraft and primarily serves customers in the oil and gas sector, although it also provides charter flights and search-and-rescue services. The company in recent years has been stepping up plans to electrify its fleet, placing orders and signing provisional sales agreements with multiple eVTOL manufacturers, including Lilium, Vertical Aerospace, Electra.aero, Eve Air Mobility, Overair, and Elroy Air.
In August 2022, Bristow placed a firm order for five Beta Alia eVTOL aircraft, with the option to purchase an additional 50 units. When Beta announced its plans to certify the conventional CX300 model, Bristow placed an additional deposit-backed order for 50 CX300s.
While Beta’s CTOL prototype has been flying all over the U.S., the company is also engaged in a flight test campaign with a second prototype—its first eVTOL aircraft. The newer prototype features four vertical lift propellers mounted on two beams that run perpendicular to the wing. Beta’s eVTOL prototype has conducted numerous hover tests since its first flight last year and is progressing toward its first transition flight, in which the aircraft will transition from vertical to horizontal flight.