Archer Aviation an air taxi startup
A California-based company called Archer, developing electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft has revealed an electric plane that will serve as the future of the flying taxi fleet and can help alleviate traffic and move people throughout cities in a fast, safe, sustainable, and cost-effective manner. At an event in Hawthorne, California, the aviation startup, Archer showed off its prototype for an electric air taxi dubbed Maker. According to Archer, Maker is a two-passenger aircraft, but it will only be used as a non-passenger test vehicle while the company works on a bigger air taxi. This means that Maker is a prototype—a stepping stone that can be seen as the future of quiet electric air taxis for short flights to ease road congestion or just to go somewhere fun.
Archer’s co-founder and co-CEO Adam Goldstein said: “We founded Archer to address the environmental and societal issues caused by road transportation and urban overloading. The company aims to become a pioneer in the new era of Urban Air Mobility with its aircraft design.” Archer claimed that the Maker will be the world’s first commercially viable and available all-electric Urban Air Mobility platform. Unlike conventional planes that use jet engines or helicopters with a large spinning rotor, Maker aircraft use electric motors to power rotating wings and propellers, just like drones, to allow for vertical takeoffs and landings. Weighing 3,300 pounds and 40-foot-wide, Maker has 12 propellers with six located in front of the wings and the other six behind the wings. The first six propellers located in front of the wing are five-bladed and they serve as the aircraft’s dynamic workhorses, and they also can tilt. This tilting technology is what allows the Maker aircraft to ascend vertically like a helicopter and move forward like an airplane. As a vertical take-off and landing aircraft, Maker can rise like a helicopter with the propeller blades oriented nearly parallel to the ground, to direct their thrust downwards. When the craft is in forwarding flight, it works like a plane, as the same five-bladed propellers are in a more standard position to propel the vehicle through the air. This is similar to how some existing tilt-rotor aircraft work which include the V-22 Osprey and the V-280 Valor. The difference is that they are not electric. The other six propellers located behind the wing are simpler and are two-bladed. Unlike the five-bladed propellers located in the front of the wings, the two-bladed propellers do not tilt or change their pitch. They are only used during the vertical take-off and transition period. According to the company, these propellers can be stopped and locked into place. This means that they only spin to help the plane get off the ground or land, and according to the way they are designed, they stop spinning and get locked when in the air so that they are aligned with the airflow moving over the aircraft as it flies forward. These propellers function like conventional plane landing gear, but unlike landing gears, they don’t retract into the plane when not in use as they serve as a balance. The maker has six independent battery packs each of them for safety purposes. This means that if one of the batteries fails, the rest of the batteries will take over the operation. These batteries give the electric plane 60 miles of range on a single charge and it will be able to hit a speed of about 150 miles per hour. The Palo Alto-based company says that when the Maker is cruising in the air, it will be 100 times quieter than a helicopter as it will generate only 45 decibels of sound from 2,000 feet— which is similar to a loud bird call. Noise reduction is important for aviation companies as mass adoption will only likely be acceptable if the aircraft is sufficiently quiet.
The aviation startup company, Archer, did not demonstrate the electric plane flight capabilities and it did not mention when it is expected to receive certification for test flights. However, the company revealed that the two-seater Maker aircraft is a stepping stone in the certification path. Maker serves as a testbed that helps the company increase knowledge and awareness on flight control systems and electric propulsion, and the things that will be put into the certified aircraft.
Also working on the 5 seater air-taxi
Recently, the company has revealed that it will build and design a bigger air-taxi which is a five-seater to serve as the main vehicle in its eventual commercial operation. According to Archer co-founders and co-CEOs Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein, it is expected that the debut flight of Maker should occur later this year, followed by the Federal Aviation Administration certification by 2024, and the Maker’s successor, the five-seater, still in the design phase will be able to fly by 2025. According to Archer, both Maker and the unknown five-seater electric plane will have similarities in their specs, in terms of speed and range, and they will probably look very similar. While the two-seater design has a 40-foot wingspan and weighs around 3,300 pounds, the five-seated aircraft will surely weigh more, and it will also feature a tilt-rotor design. So one can just think of Maker as a slightly scaled-down demonstrator. Archer had been trickling information on Maker over the past few months, including releasing a high-quality concept of the two-seater. So recently, the company revealed that it is merging with Atlas Crest Investment Cooperation, to create a company with an equity value of $3.8 billion. This attracted several investors, most importantly United Airlines. According to reports, United Airlines has invested more than $1 billion and ordered 200 aircraft from the aviation company. This means that the five-seater aircraft will soon be popping up at the airport. Fiat Chrysler is also teaming up with Archer to help accelerate the launch of the electric plane. This deal will give the California-based company access to Fiat Chrysler’s low-cost supply chain engineering and design experience, and advanced composite material capabilities needed to produce aircraft at the scale needed to support the company’s Urban Air Motility. Doug Ostermann, Fiat Chrysler’s head of global business development, said in a statement that: “Electrification within the transportation sector whether on roads or in the air is the future and our partnership with Archer has mutual benefits and will enable innovative, environmentally-friendly transportation solutions to be brought to market at an accelerated pace.” Archer’s co-founder, Goldstein also says that they are super excited about the relationship with Fiat Chrysler. He added: “For us, it’s a monumental point in time where we get to partner with a global powerhouse company that enables us to mass manufacture. It enables us and gives us a lot of the credibility also that we need to be one of the major players in this aviation industry.” Archer has also partnered with the cities of Los Angeles and Miami to begin the development of a flying car fleet to usher in the adoption of electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles and promote sustainable travel. Apart from United Airlines, Archer has investments from several undisclosed sources. But Walmart’s e-commerce chief and founder of Jet.com, Marc Lore, is one of Archer’s disclosed investors.
Several competitors in the field of flying vehicles
Archer is not alone in the field of flying vehicles, it has several competitors. Apart from the already established companies such as Joby, and Boeing-backed Wisk, the South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor has also previously announced plans to develop electric flying vehicles with Uber which recently sold its aerial ride-hailing division. It is also worth noting that the rival aviation startup, Wisk recently accused Archer of stealing its trade secrets. Wisk, a venture backed by Google Billionaire Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk, and Boeing corporation alleged that former employees of Wisk took the company files and secret design before going to work for Archer. So Wisk has filed a preliminary injunction to block Archer from using its design and the US government has opened an investigation into the matter. Archer also countersued Wisk earlier this month over false statements denying Wisk’s allegations and asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. After Archer unveiled the prototype, Maker, Wisk spokesperson said that the prototype was nothing new and they look forward to continuing the case in court.
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