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Wed, Aug 02, 2023

Archer to Deliver Six Midnight eVTOLs to USAF

New DOD Contract Worth Up To $142-Million

Archer Aviation, the California-based designer of electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft, has broadened its working relationship with the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) by means of a newly-signed contract worth up to $142-million.

Announced on 31 July 2023, subject contract obliges Archer to share additional data pertaining to flight-testing and pilot training, provide certification-related test reports, and help the DOD develop maintenance and repair operations under its AFWERX Agility Prime program—an expansive DOD undertaking in which Archer has participated since 2021.

An initiative comprising a number of modestly-financed programs, AFWERX develops solutions germane to the technical and logistical challenges facing the USAF through partnerships with private sector business entities—technology startups in particular. Described as an island of misfit toys for entrepreneurs within the Air Force, the AFWERX program sets out to increase the service’s lethality whilst remaining within conservative budgetary constraints.

According to Archer Aviation, the new contract extends the company’s extant partnership with the DOD and, more specifically, marks the commencement of an execution phase that will see Archer deliver up to six of its Midnight eVTOLs to the USAF.

AFWERX Agility Prime program lead Colonel Tom Meagher stated: “It is our mission to ensure the U.S. continues to lead the world in developing and deploying emerging aerospace technology.”

Colonel Meagher continued: “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 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 the near-term, Archer will continue to collaborate with the DOD under a Government Services Advisory Board formed by the eVTOL-maker in May 2023.

The Air Force intends to ply Archer’s Midnight eVTOL to missions the likes of personnel transport, logistics, and rescue operations.

Archer founder and CEO Adam Goldstein remarked: “This historic agreement reflects the steadfast commitment by our Armed Forces to embrace the cutting-edge technology our eVTOL aircraft offer. It’s clear that the development and commercialization of eVTOL technology continues to remain a national priority. We look forward to working closely with the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force to integrate Midnight into their operational fleet with a focus on transport, logistics, and rescue operations.”

On 11 May 2023, Archer completed final assembly of the first full-scale Midnight aircraft and shipped the machine from the company’s Palo Alto facility to its Salinas flight test installation. Component manufacturing is currently underway for Archer’s conforming Midnight aircraft, which the company plans to assemble in 2023’s fourth-quarter.

Painted in broad strokes, Archer’s Midnight is a single-pilot, five-passenger eVTOL aircraft evolved from an antecedent Archer design known as Maker, from which Midnight inherited a flight-architecture comprising 12 electric-motor/rotor assemblies: six five-blade tilt-rotors for forward and vertical flight, and six two-blade fixed-rotors for vertical flight exclusively. The entirety of the aforementioned motor/rotor assemblies are affixed by pylons to a single, high-wing of relatively high aspect ratio. The six tilt-rotor assemblies are positioned forward of said wing, while the six fixed-rotor assemblies are positioned aft of such.

Midnight’s 12 electric motors weigh a miserly 55-pounds apiece and have peak individual power outputs of 125-kilowatts (167-horsepower).  The powerplants’ power-to-weight ratio is approximately 3.04-horsepower/pound.

The motors are supplied electrical power by a sextet of proprietary eight-hundred-volt battery-packs comprising cylindrical, type 2170 lithium-ion battery cells provided by the Taiwanese battery manufacturer Molicel. Each of the six battery-packs supplies two motor/rotor assemblies and are interconnected in such a way that load may be varied and individual battery-packs isolated. In addition to providing redundancy in the event of motor or battery failure, the described Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP) scheme facilitates reductions in power requirements of nearly twenty-percent at the battery cell level—compared to conventional high-voltage battery designs.

So motivated, Midnight attains and advertised cruise speed of 130-knots, a single-charge range of 17 to 43-nautical-miles—dependent upon aircraft loading and flight conditions—and a cruising altitude of two-thousand feet MSL.

Midnight’s ovular-cross-section fuselage sits atop a fixed, tricycle undercarriage; the machine’s empennage is of a V-configuration evocative of Beechcraft’s S-35 Bonanza.

Loaded to its maximum takeoff weight, Midnight tips the scales at seven-thousand-pounds. The aircraft’s maximum payload is nebulously cited as “one-thousand-plus-pounds.”

To mitigate risk, Archer’s engineers provisioned Midnight with a proprietary system by which fire is prevented in the event of thermal runaway secondary to failure of the aircraft’s lithium-ion battery-cells. Archer has yet to disclosed the details of its ostensible thermal runaway solution, however, Alex Clarabut, Archer’s director of battery systems, averred “if we have a failure of the battery management system, we've got enough redundancy in the system to be able to continue to fly safely.”

Archer’s strategy for Midnight’s deployment is predicated upon an Urban Air Mobility (UAM) model comprising twenty-mile back-to-back routes conducted in rapid succession. As Midnight’s design targets a one-hundred-mile-per-charge range, numerous such legs could be flown by a single aircraft.

For initial UAM operations, Archer will rely on existing infrastructure, such as the Manhattan heliport, which anchors a route to and from Newark; and Vertiport Chicago, a facility that will presently serve as the hub for an air-taxi route between the Midwestern metropolis’s famed downtown Loop and O’Hare International Airport (ORD).

Mr. Goldstein concluded: “Over time, we will build more infrastructure or work with companies to build more infrastructure.”

FMI: www.archer.com

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