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Archer’s Midnight Prototype Takes Flight

Up and At ‘Em

After a protracted gestation and four-years of flight-testing, a nonconforming prototype of Midnight, the electrically-powered air-taxi being developed by California-based eVTOL-maker Archer Aviation, has flown.

Archer founder and CEO Adam Goldstein stated: “This next phase of Archer’s flight test program is only possible because of the four years of flight testing we’ve done. Midnight is building on the successes of its predecessor aircraft and represents another significant step forward in Archer’s path to commercialization. The next year-and-a-half will be focused on continuing to rapidly advance our flight test program and Archer’s electric air taxi operations as we prepare to bring Midnight to market in 2025.”

Archer COO Tom Muniz remarked: “Having taken seven full-size eVTOL aircraft from design to flight test during my career in the eVTOL industry, today’s milestone with Midnight marks the most significant flight to date bringing Archer and the eVTOL industry another step closer to bringing a scalable and commercially viable aircraft to market.”

As Archer’s flight test program soldiers ahead over the coming months, Midnight’s flight envelope is expected to broaden from hover to full wing-borne transition, thereby paving the way for the commencement of FAA  for credit testing of the aircraft.

To maximize the company’s operational readiness, Archer intends to contemporaneously continue Maker’s flight test program and fly simulations of commercial routes.

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.

In July 2023, Archer was awarded a DOD contract obliging the company 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. Worth up to $142-million, the contract extends Archer’s partnership with the DOD and, more specifically, marks the commencement of an execution phase that will see eVTOL-maker deliver up to six of its Midnight eVTOLs to the USAF, which intends to ply the machine to missions the likes of personnel transport, logistics, and rescue operations.

In August 2023, Archer secured a $215-million equity investment from Stellantis—an American-Italian-French multinational automotive manufacturing corporation—Boeing, United Airlines, and a number of financial institutions including ARK Invest. The capital infusion boosted Archer’s total to-date funding to over $1.1-billion.

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.”

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).

FMI: www.archer.com

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