Archer Aviation reveals 2-seater demonstration aircraft, a "stepping stone" toward commercial operations
Archer Aviation on Thursday unveiled its autonomous electric two-seater aircraft, dubbed the "Maker", which it will use for testing to work towards certification of a larger piloted five-seater announced in March 2020.
The aircraft presented on Thursday would not take off if the company reached commercial operations in 2024. However, Archer certification director Eric Wright told TechCrunch that starting with an autonomous vehicle will allow the company to go through the testing process more efficiently.
"The Maker [two-seat] aircraft is a stepping stone on the path to certification," Wright said. He said it was a "testbed that really helps us expand our knowledge and awareness of the flight control systems and electric propulsion and the things we put into the certified aircraft, and to help the [Federal Aviation Administration] gain trust." into this design as we put it through its paces, and of course you will be involved in watching this move. "
Both Maker and the nameless five-seat aircraft share similarities in their specifications: both have a "tilt rotor" design, which means that of the aircraft's 12 rotors, the front six can be tilted. This tilt mechanism allows the aircraft to rise vertically like a helicopter and move forward like an airplane.
For safety reasons, the two also have six independent battery packs each, since the remaining batteries should also work in the event of a failure. It is these batteries that give the boats a range of 60 miles at 250 mph. While the two-seat design has a 40-foot wingspan and weighs around 3,300 pounds, the larger aircraft will likely weigh more, Wright said.
Photo credit: Archer (opens in new window)
The Palo Alto-based company also said it expects Maker will only generate 45 decibels of sound from 2,000 feet. The noise specification is especially important for Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) companies who have air taxi aspirations. Mass adoption is likely to be acceptable - both by the public and by regulators - only if the aircraft is sufficiently quiet.
Archer had slowly leaked information about Maker over the past few months, including the release of a high-quality rendering of the two-seater after the company announced it had won a $ 1 billion contract with United. (The release of these renders helped spark a lawsuit by rival eVTOL developer Wisk Aero for alleged misappropriation of trade secrets.) Thursday's event marks the first time the public has seen an actual 3.8 billion aircraft from the startup US dollars can see.
When asked why the first aircraft is autonomous, Wright said it would help the company go through the testing and validation process more efficiently. "By making the vehicle autonomous, you can get things done faster without the pilot in the plane actually having to fly it," Wright said. "This allows you to view the aircraft's reaction to the inputs much faster and more efficiently from an autonomous point of view."
While autonomous air taxis can take years to get people around cities, Archer, like other eVTOL developers, sees autonomy in its long-term design - as a serviceable aircraft, rather than simply enabling a larger certification process.
"If we're going to have a really big impact on transportation, I think it's really difficult to do it in a long-term piloted way," said Brett Adcock, CEO of Archer, in a separate interview with TechCrunch. “I think piloted is definitely the right way to enter the market when it comes to getting into the airspace and getting certified and basically doing it right away. And then I think that over time it will be really important to move to autonomous airspace to increase safety for both passengers and the network. So I think that [autonomy] is inevitable when the industry really scales well and gets big. "
The three-year-old startup plans to start commercial operations in Los Angeles and Miami in 2024. The company's system simulation team uses a simulation tool called Prime Radiant to determine where to place its Vertiports. This team is led by the former head of data science at Uber Elevate, Uber's air mobility division that was later sold to Joby Aviation in December 2020.
Adcock also said the company is in talks with ridesharing companies to work with them to incorporate the first and last mile car rides that are inevitably needed into the air taxi routes.
Ahead of the scheduled launch date of 2024, Goldstein said the company was working with its partner, automaker Stellantis, on two plants: one that would deliver traditional aerospace volumes in hundreds of aircraft per year, and a future plant that would be even higher in volume .
Archer has similar production needs to an automaker, Goldstein said, "where we use lightweight carbon fiber for many parts, we have electric motors and batteries, all like cars."
Archer Aviation plans to establish a network of urban air taxis in Los Angeles by 2024
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