Archer's demonstrator eVTOL aircraft, Maker, will begin test flights this year. (Archer)
The electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) company Archer debuted its first demonstrator aircraft, Maker, during an immersive event in Los Angeles, California on June 10 where they used movie production technology and a 2,400 sq ft XR volume space to simulate the aircraft in flight.
Maker, which will function as a certification testbed for key technologies, will begin ground-testing and hover flights this year, Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein, the co-founders and co-CEOs of Archer, said during the event. It will have a 60-mile range and be able to reach speeds up to 150 mph, Adcock said. The demonstrator aircraft will be autonomous; however, Archer is planning to launch its services with a piloted aircraft.
“We built maker to be a certification testbed and also to advance our key enabling technologies,” Adcock said. “Today you're seeing the rollout of Maker. Maker will begin ground tests and then hover flights later this year. We’ll then work to expand the flight envelope from hover to full cruise speeds of over 150 miles an hour.”
Like other eVTOLs, Maker was designed for urban operations making noise and safety high priorities. These considerations were why they chose to go with an electric distributed propulsion system, Adcock said.
Archer debuted its first demonstrator aircraft, Maker, during an immersive event in Los Angeles, California on June 10 where they used movie production technology and a 2,4000 sq ft XR volume space to simulate the aircraft in flight. (screenshot taken from the event video)
“Maker was engineered from the ground up for the urban traveler,” Adcock said. “This means designing a new aircraft that can fit the fabric of cities. In order to do this, we had to design an aircraft for record safety and low noise. We also wanted to make sure that this was a service that everybody could access, which means it needed to be a high throughput network. From a vehicle engineering perspective, a big enabler for us is distributed electric propulsion.”
Electric motors are simpler than big turbine or piston engines. Maker was designed with 12 small electric motors with six independent battery packs giving it high energy efficiency, Adcock said. The many motors also allow the aircraft to withstand failures.
“As we designed the aircraft safety was our number one goal,” Adcock said. “First, distributed electric propulsion allows us to design in multiple redundant electric motors. We no longer have a single motor as power in flight. Maker has six independent battery packs that power 12 electric motors. These motors are distributed laterally across the aircraft wing…During flight, we can tolerate an entire battery pack system failure or two motor failures and still fly the mission safely. In fact, Maker has zero single points of failure. For comparison, most helicopters have hundreds of these single points of failure.”
The demonstrator aircraft will be autonomous; however, Archer is planning to launch its services with a piloted aircraft. (Archer)
Maker will also be much quieter than a helicopter because eVTOLs rotor blades are smaller and can spin slower. Archer claims that these adjustments will make its aircraft 100 times quieter than a helicopter.
“Since we're spinning 12 rotors that are much smaller, we can spin them slower resulting in lower tip speed and much different nose profile, much lower noise,” Adcock said. “We have designed the propellers on the aircraft specifically for low noise…We're going to be traveling at 2,000 feet above ground level, and just for a bit of comparison versus a helicopter, we will be traveling at that altitude at 100 times quieter than a helicopter. This is similar to the sound of a refrigerator running. It will be virtually inaudible in flight.”
For air taxi services to be sustainable, they need to be available to everyone, Goldstein said. Archer is predicting that it will be able to carry passengers on flights from urban areas like Los Angeles to Santa Monica for only $40 while decreasing their travel time significantly.
“Let's say you live in Fort Lauderdale, and you just got invited to the hottest tech party of the year hosted by Mayor Suarez,” Goldstein said. “You’ve got to go to that, but that 23-mile drive can take us 70 minutes, that's just brutal sitting in traffic. We can fly that mission in under 14 minutes. Or let's say you're here, in LA. You're in downtown and you want to go to Santa Monica and grab lunch, that 15-mile drive can take you almost an hour. We can fly that route in under eight minutes because it's actually not that far. We can do it for under $40. There are millions of trips like this, people are taking them every single day. We can move those trips to the air and do it in a fully sustainable way.”
Goldstein also asked the audience to consider the opportunities that could be opened up if they could travel anywhere within a 50-mile radius in minutes instead of hours.
“What about all the trips that you wish you could take but you just don't because they're too far,” Goldstein said. “Imagine you could go anywhere within a 50-mile radius, where would you go…Today we're really just limited in our ability to explore because of these time constraints, but this transportation solution goes beyond commuting.”
Archer is building a network for its eVTOLs through a data science project, Prime Radiant, to find the ideal positions for air taxi routes and takeoff and landing sites, Adcock said.
“We use Prime Radiant to better understand where to put takeoff and landing sites, what to charge for the service, and ultimately how to save people time in their commute,” Adcock said. “For takeoff and landing sites, we're using existing real estate with light retrofitting, that includes helipads and others such as rooftops land parcels and parking lots.”
Archer is predicting that its aircraft will be able to complete over 40 flights per day, Adcock said. These flights will be between 20 and 40 miles and use a long-range battery pack that does not need to be fully recharged after every flight.
“We're designing for nominal missions, between 20 and 40 miles, and we designed a long-range battery that was capable of much more than this so, we don’t have to fully charge after every trip,” Adcock said. “For flights, we'll be using around 30 percent of our battery pack, and the battery is meant to be fast-charged while on the ground, which means it only takes about 10 minutes to charge enough before it's ready for the next flight. That means that the Archer aircraft can do over 40 flights per day.”
While Maker is a demonstrator aircraft, Archer has been working with the FAA on a similar aircraft that is expected to enter operations in Los Angeles and Miami in 2024.
“For the last year and a half, we've been working closely with the FAA on a certified aircraft, which will be much like Maker, and it'll be piloted and for passengers,” Adcock said. “We will open manufacturing for that aircraft next year and it will enter operations in 2024. We also have announced to launch cities, Los Angeles and Miami.”
As Archer speeds toward the certification and launch of its vehicle, the company is also facing a lawsuit from eVTOL maker Wisk over the “12 tilt 6” design. Wisk claims that Archer developed this design after hiring some of its former employees. Archer has called the claims baseless and filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. They have also filed a counterclaim for interference and unfair competition, according to a June 1 press release from the company.