Last year, the average distance American drivers drove each day was just under 33 miles. That metric, which comes from a AAA survey, might not sound like much, but an aviation startup called Archer aims to focus on even shorter trips. Its goal is to use electric flying machines for aerial leaps above traffic or waterways, and the company just revealed a plane it calls Midnight. It’s designed to take trips that measure just 20 miles, with time in between to recharge.
Midnight, which hasn’t yet left the ground, is intended to hold four passengers, have a pilot at the controls, and fly through the air at 150 mph. “It can carry 1,000 pounds of payload and can travel up to 100 miles,” Adam Goldstein, the company’s CEO, said at an event yesterday. “But this vehicle was optimized for quick, back-to-back, 20-mile trips in and around cities.” Some quick calculations suggest the weight limit for the five humans on board and their bags will be around 200 pounds each.
One specific way Archer hopes to make this short-haul plan a reality is through a partnership with United Airlines, which plans to buy planes from the startup and has already given it $10 million. Earlier this month, the two airlines said they would offer short flights between Manhattan and Newark Liberty International Airport on Archer aircraft starting in 2025.
That announcement mirrors that of Delta Air Lines and Joby Aviation in early October, which will focus on flying people in an electric plane to New York City or Los Angeles to an airport, where they can then take a regular, fossil-fuel-powered plane. flight on a traditional plane.
[Related: Watch Alice, a new electric commuter plane, fly for the first time]
The range Archer promises is on par with or slightly below its competitors in the eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) space. Last month, Wisk revealed its sixth-generation aircraft, which is boxy, yellow and has an advertised range of around 90 miles. (Wisk, which is engaged in a lawsuit with Archer, has a unique plan: to offer four-passenger autonomous flights with no pilots and only human ground supervisors.) Another electric aircraft maker, Beta Technologies, is aiming for missions that are about 150 miles. Joby, on his website, boasts a “max range” of the same. The more people or cargo one of these aircraft attempts to carry, the less distance they will be able to fly on battery power.
Like its competitors, Archer’s design for his flying machine relies on battery power and electric motors that power the propellers. In Midnight’s case, there are a dozen props: six at the front of the wing can tilt to help the aircraft take off vertically and then switch to forward flight, and six at the rear don’t tilt, but still rotate and produce lift for takeoff and landing. A smaller aircraft from Archer, called the Maker, served as an unmanned testbed to pave the way for Midnight. It has flown numerous times but has not yet transitioned to full forward flight with the front propellers banked full down.
Archer is also leaning heavily on the design details of its Midnight aircraft, aiming to evoke nostalgic yet futuristic feelings about flying.
“The golden age of flight, the 1950s, was a great source of inspiration for us,” said Julien Montousse, the company’s head of design and innovation, at the presentation. “We want to bring back this magical feeling.” The plane, he added, “should have been beautiful.”
Beauty can be an inspiration when it comes to any aircraft, but the challenge for all of these companies will be to demonstrate that their flying machines are safe, reliable and an affordable, comfortable and cost-effective alternative to bringing ground transportation to a destination such as an airport (and, of course, they will also need to pass regulatory scrutiny). Otherwise, people are likely to stick to trains, Lyfts, and other automobiles.
Watch a short video about Midnight, below.