In the lead-up to unveiling their first production eVTOL Wednesday in Silicon Valley, the brain trust at Archer Aviation sought an aircraft name that would forge an emotional connection.
They decided a simple combination of letters and numbers — an old and accepted aviation convention — wouldn’t do. Their name needed to be different, evocative and bold.
“A lot of aircraft are built around utility,” said Adam Goldstein, Archer’s founder and CEO, in an interview with Vertical.
“We wanted to create an aircraft that could create an emotional response. We took an entirely different approach … and wanted to give it a name that was also different than a typical aircraft name.”
To the decision-makers at Archer, the name Midnight seemed like a glove-like fit for the futuristic, five-seat (pilot and four passengers) vehicle they hope will begin ferrying customers in 2025.
“We thought that would be a really great way for people to start emotionally connecting with these products,” said Goldstein. “Because we do believe these products are going to be widely available and people [will be] taking them on a daily basis.”
Archer unveiled Midnight to a select group of analysts, investors and journalists at an open house in Palo Alto, Calif., on Nov. 17.
The new aircraft is not scheduled to begin test flights until the first half of next year, but it closely resembles Archer’s two-seat Maker prototype.
Maker continues to make daily test flights, and has served as a proving ground for the aircraft’s proprietary “12-tilt-six” propulsion system.
Maker and Midnight are both designed with 12 rotors that spin approximately parallel to the ground on takeoff, with six rotors tilting forward to provide thrust during forward flight.
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“It’s the same configuration, flight controls, tilt propeller system … all that kind of stuff,” said Goldstein. “And it really validated a lot of the core technologies.”
Midnight is a much larger aircraft, with an expected payload of more than 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms).
It is optimized for back-to-back trips of about 20 miles (32 kilometers), with a charging time of about 10 minutes in between, and speeds of up to 150 miles per hour (241 km/h).
Safety is also a key consideration in the design.
“High redundancy and simplified propulsion systems make for a significantly safer aircraft compared to a helicopter,” Archer said in a news release.
“Midnight has no single critical points of failure, meaning that should any single component fail, the aircraft can still safely complete its flight. In addition, the electric motors used in Midnight have significantly [fewer] moving parts than those found in a gas turbine or piston engine, allowing it to operate with less maintenance and lower overall risk.”
Midnight is designed to cruise at roughly 2,000 feet (610 metres), with noise reaching the ground at around 45 A-weighted decibels, “almost 1,000 times quieter than . . . a helicopter,” Archer said in the release.
Midnight’s tilt propellers also spin on axes aligned with oncoming air flow, rather than edge-wise to the flow, further decreasing noise levels, the company said. The 12 small propellers can also spin at lower tip speeds than helicopters, another noise reduction advantage.
With an eye toward environmental sustainability, Midnight’s seats are made from flax fiber and incorporate fabric made from recycled contents like plastic bottles, the release said.
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In August, Archer said it completed Midnight’s preliminary design review, enabling it to determine the design is feasible for type certification and commercialization.
The company aims to have Midnight certified with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in late 2024. If all goes according to plan, Midnight aircraft would be part of an urban air mobility (UAM) network Archer plans to launch in 2025.
In the meantime, Archer plans to continue flight testing with the Maker prototype, and said it is on schedule to complete a full transition flight in the coming weeks. Maker’s test program has generated crucial data the company has leveraged for Midnight’s development.
“We continue the push towards commercialization, with the vast majority of our resources focused on completing the development and certification of Midnight, building out our manufacturing and supply chain capabilities and hardening our go-to-market plans,” said Mark Mesler, chief financial officer for Archer, in a statement.
Archer intends to manufacture 250 Midnight eVTOLs in the first year of production at its manufacturing facility in Covington, Georgia, about 55 kilometres east of Atlanta.
The company is planning to scale the Covington facility in two phases, the first of which would allow it to manufacture up to 650 aircraft a year. The second phase would enable the company to build thousands of aircraft a year.
Archer has said it hopes to deploy 6,000 aircraft by 2030.
Goldstein dodged a question about whether Archer plans to eventually add a manufacturing facility in Europe to serve overseas markets.
“We’ve been entirely focused on certifying our vehicle in the U.S. with the FAA, and so we haven’t started the European stuff yet,” he said.
“Over time, we will look at that. But we’re laser focused right now on just coming to market in the U.S.”