Will air battles in the not-too-distant future be fought with electric rotorcraft, à la Terminator Salvation? Humankind’s savior, John Connor, piloting small eVTOLs through smoky landscapes with air-cannons blazing?
Probably not. But Archer Aviation’s announcement that it signed a US$142 million (HK$1,108.33 million) contract with the U.S. Air Force for a military version of its Midnight eVTOL means electric air taxis could soon play some role in the nation’s air defenses.
“It’s clear that the development and commercialization of eVTOL technology continues to remain a national priority,” said Archer CEO Adam Goldstein in a statement, noting that the six aircraft will be used for logistics and rescue, rather than combat missions. The contract also includes pilot training and maintenance.
Archer has been working with the DoD since 2021 via the Air Force’s AFWERX Agility Prime program to assess how eVTOL technologies might fit into emerging platforms for the Air Force and other U.S. military branches.
These “eVTOL aircraft represent the cusp of the third revolution in aerospace, and these aircraft and their descendants will drive advances in capabilities and efficiency,” said Colonel Tom Meagher, the lead for AFWERX Agility Prime programs. “Our contracts with Archer Aviation provide 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.”
The company unveiled its five-seat Midnight electric air taxi last November. It is expected to have a payload of over 1,000 pounds and be optimized for back-to-back 20-mile trips, with a charge time of about 10 minutes between trips. The company said it’s working with the FAA for certification next year, with a possible commercial rollout in 2025. Midnight is designed to cruise at 2,000 feet but with a noise output of 45 dBA—or 1,000 times quieter than a helicopter—that reaches the ground.
Archer recently assembled a new government advisory board that includes six senior retired leaders from different branches of the U.S. military. According to the company, the goal is to allow “Archer to more fully engage with U.S. government and public safety agencies to explore opportunities to commercialize its eVTOL aircraft.” The company also recently hired former FAA acting administrator Billy Nolen as its chief safety officer.
Competitor Joby has also been an active participant of the AFWERX Agility Prime program. In April, one of its electric air taxis in California was remotely flown by Air Force personnel at the Wright-Patterson Airforce base in Ohio. The company has a US$131 million (HK$1,022.48 million) contract with the U.S. Air Force for up to nine Joby aircraft.