Beta achieves multi-mission flight from New York to Kentucky
By Gerrard Cowan | December 19, 2022
Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 28 seconds.
Beta Technologies recently conducted the second multi-mission flight of its electric Alia aircraft, providing an opportunity to test recent advances in Beta’s charging network, the company said.
The journey took place over several flights, comprising 876 miles (1,410 kilometers) from Plattsburgh, New York, to UPS Worldport in Louisville, Kentucky. The aircraft flew across four states: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky, where it was met by Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. The journey took five days, with a hold for snow in New York, and the single-piloted aircraft rotated between two pilots — Nick Warren and Lochie Ferrier.
The flight took place at the request of Beta customer UPS to reposition the aircraft at its Worldport facility. This followed the company’s two-part cross-country flight in the summer, where the Alia flew 1,400 miles (2,250 kilometers) from Plattsburgh, New York, to Bentonville, Arkansas.
Beta has two prototypes that flight test regularly, one configured to VTOL and one to CTOL. The aircraft in this mission was the CTOL variant, though the company believes that data from both can be brought together for the VTOL mission. The company first successfully hovered the VTOL variant earlier in 2022 and said it is making strong progress with this aircraft.
Its latest flight notched several gains since its inaugural summer flight, including the completion of three flights daily, flying into and out of busier airspace, conducting the flights with fewer crew members, and operating in colder weather conditions.
However, testing the aircraft in winter weather was not the primary aim of the flight, Ferrier told Vertical. It was simply a side effect of the flight’s scheduled departure dates.
Article Continues Below
Rather, the aim was “to get these airplanes into real airspace and in real airports,” he said. “That has always been really valuable for us in terms of learning and improving our technology for our end customers. We can only learn so much flying in our local area.”
Ferrier underscored the benefits of testing the company’s charging network. This is built on the company’s Charge Cube technology, which are currently located at nine sites in the U.S., although the company has a further 55 sites in permitting or construction and aims to have almost 150 operational over the next three years. The chargers can be used for other aircraft, including those from other manufacturers, as well as electric ground vehicles.
The flight was an opportunity to test upgrades to this network that have been made since the cross-country flight in the summer, Ferrier said. This has involved increasing the power available through the chargers so that they charge more quickly, by changing hardware on the aircraft to allow for higher charging currents, as well as improving their reliability. A software upgrade on the aircraft also increased the charging limits, while there has been continued development of the batteries, Ferrier said.
“The charging network is a really big piece of this that sometimes goes underappreciated,” he said. “If we tried to do this flight without our charging network, it would take an extremely long time … it’s really key having this charging network in place. That’s a big part of getting these airplanes out into the world, and we’re pushing hard on it.”
It was also announced in mid-December that Beta will be one of four partners for the Mission NextGen Aircraft program from Air New Zealand, with the aim of developing a zero-emissions demonstrator flight by 2026. The other partners are Eviation, VoltAero and Cranfield Aerospace. The partnership with Beta will include a focus on both the Alia and the company’s charging infrastructure.