Update: Archer’s Midnight eVTOL Completes First Transition Flight

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Archer Aviation announced today it completed the first successful transition flight of its Midnight electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft on June 8. In transitioning from vertical takeoff mode to wing-borne flight, the six front-facing electric motors tilt forward as it picks up speed to power the aircraft like a conventional fixed-wing aircraft. As shown on the company video, the Midnight achieved speeds of greater than 100 mph on the remotely controlled flight. It then reverted to vertical mode for landing.

AVweb asked about the configuration of the six aft rotors for the flight. Archer responded: “For the first full transition flight, we chose to keep the aft propellers spinning at very low speeds (200-300 RPM) rather than initiating the ‘stow routine’ to stop them. Envelope expansion is a step-by-step process. In future flights we will exercise this functionality. You can think of this as being analogous to how, for conventional aircraft, the landing gear may not be retracted on a first flight. All of the lift was generated by the wing at the speeds we were flying (100+ mph).”

At a design max takeoff weight of 6,500 pounds with a target of a 1,000-pound payload, the Midnight is among the largest eVTOLs to achieve transition flight, according to Santa Clara, California-based Archer. The company recognizes the milestone as “critical to being able to carry commercially viable passenger payloads.” Archer updated AVweb that the Midnight carried a payload including 450 pounds of ballast and instrumentation for the unmanned June 8 test flight.

The Midnight is the second of Archer’s full-scale eVTOL models to establish successful transition flight. The Maker did so in November 2022, eleven months after its first flight. The aircraft still flies regularly as part of Archer’s flight-test program.

Company Chief Engineer Geoff Bower said, “Over the seven eVTOL aircraft I’ve built and flown in my career, they have gotten progressively larger as we pursued payloads that made the aircraft platform commercially viable.” Archer Founder and CEO Adam Goldstein said, “Transitioning two generations of full-scale eVTOL aircraft in less than two years is another remarkable achievement for Archer’s team. This shows we continue to successfully execute against our plan to create the most efficient path to market with an aircraft that is designed for certification and to be manufactured efficiently at scale.”

According to Archer, the Midnight is in the final “implementation” phase of FAA Type Certification. Piloted flight testing is on track to begin later this year. The long-term goal of the Midnight is to replace 60- to 90-minute automobile commutes in populated areas with 10- to 20-minute air taxi trips. The flights are meant to be “safe, sustainable, low-noise, and cost-competitive with ground transportation.”

This version of the story includes updated information from Archer on the payload carried for the test flight.

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

44 COMMENTS

  1. These companies always play music with the video. Why don’t they play what these “aircraft” really sound like?

    • All aircraft sound like music. This could be the actual sound signature of this amazing plane that no-one in these forums ever said could become a reality (except me).

  2. Given the Biden administration’s obsession with electric power, and the corresponding federal funding mandates (including defense spending mandates on eVTOL), I would anticipate that Archer and similar electric powered-lift (PL) aircraft developers have about 6 months before their funding starts to dry up. There are physical realities associated with the constant battery weight required to sustain all-electric PL flight (aka eVTOL) that LIMIT the practicality.

    Lets not also overlook the fact that in order to make urban air transport practical at the scale of these aircraft, you need an airport with gates, aircraft parking and servicing, power infrastructure, baggage, parking, TSA, etc. You are not going to provide that at the top of a building, parking lot or at a small baseball field, if even a small unoccupied baseball field exists in a large city. Basically, it requires infrastructure the size of a small airport. So we are back to justifying why an eVTOL is more efficient than a turboprop or small jet that can operate out of a small airstrip, or even a helicopter. The idea that these eVTOLs are just going to hop across the Hudson and operate regularly out of a corporate parking lot for the cost of a cab fare is a myth, in my opinion. There may be niche “high roller” routes such as East Hampton to NYC that displace existing modes such as helicopters and seaplanes. But those high-paying niche routes are few and far between. I am sure I will take personal attacks on this that have nothing to do with eVTOL, but go ahead.

    • Good morning, Bill! No personal attack here – just a few responses!

      My understanding of the business models calls for operations from spaces that look more like FBOs than airport terminals. No TSA checkpoints (rules similar to how JSX operates); no gates – just a door to the ramp and your waiting aircraft; no baggage handling – passengers carry their own carry-on sized bags; and only a few craft on the ramp at a time. Since they are all expected to be electric, servicing will involve stringing a charging cable to the power port when needed. Major servicing would occur away from the terminal facilities.

      Since most of these services seem to be geared towards servicing urban passengers, parking likely isn’t a major consideration, either – passengers will either use a nearby garage or lot or take a taxi or ride-share car to the terminal.

      This business model has only been tried in the past with limited success using helicopters, so it has yet to be proven that it will work or find a large enough client base to be profitable. But it is also possible that these aircraft will find uses not connected to this business model as well.

      Have a great day!

    • The many comments like these remind me of what John Frederic Daniell said about Michael Faraday: “It is not likely to lead to any practical results.”

      Now look at us – electricity everywhere.

      • And look at us now – electric cars everywhere… or not. Over 100 years after the invention of the first electric vehicle, governments are having to mandate them in order to get manufacturers to make them. The market has spoken for over a century: we don’t want them. The same can be said for electric airplanes.

        • Gosh, Dan – I’m not sure that my friends, neighbors and coworkers who’ve bought EVs, even without access to subsidies, would really agree with you on that point. But, you know, since this is an aviation website and not an automotive or politics website, I don’t think anything else needs to be said in response to your comment.

          Hope you have a great day!

          • Could we stop attaching stuff like ‘Have a great day” to posts in ironic, snarky, condescending, or other ways that are anything other than in earnest?
            This has become some sort of rude joke in the comments, which I think we’d all be better off without.

          • Wow – old Eric! I truly was hoping that Dan would have a great day, but I guess maybe you hope he doesn’t? In any case, feel free to stop reading my comments before the sign-off!

            Won’t say I hope you have a great day!

    • It is likely that this transport system will function, but, that the cost of a ticket will prove to be significantly more than projected and desired. Companies like Archer can make the technology work, but can they create a profitable business to satisfy investors who want quick profits? When it appears that the promoters cannot make it pay, will they seek government subsidies just like the “alternative energy” providers have received for years? Multi-billion dollar public public transit systems have been built, but they never break even and always require taxpayer subsidy. That is deemed acceptable because, supposedly, it is “green.” Is it acceptable to make wage earners and other productive people pay for these experiments? What will be next? Should taxpayers pay what amounts to an additional tax so that a relative few people can have a shorter and less stressful commute?

  3. Electric cars are a niche market, electric airplanes are a niche market, the proposed routes are a niche market, and the people able to afford electric cars and airplanes are a niche market.

    Energy density hasn’t been solved in all of these vehicles, not to mention the infrastructure you cite. Ford motor company has list Billions in EVs, and everyone knows that without government subsidies virtually no one would buy these cars. No one to date has proven that PL (electric flight) is commercially viable.

    But let’s not let the facts get in the way of government mandated transition from fossil fuels.

    • I would not consider Electric cars as a niche market. I have driven my Chevy Bolt some 82,000 miles and it costs less than 3 cents a mile to drive. My only maintenance other than tires has been to replace the rear wiper blade. Without considering subsidies, the cost of the Bolt in 2023 was about $27,000. If you had a company making local deliveries, you would have to be dumb not to be looking at using electric vehicles just to save money. I doubt that I will ever buy another internal combustion vehicle. In about a decade, gas or diesel powered vehicles should be the new niche market.

      It will take longer for electric aircraft to become mainstream but the battery technology to do so is becoming available. However, even with the present battery technology, if I were a hospital administrator, I would at least be looking at the eVTOL market. They will be quieter with lower operating cost and maintenance, faster in flight, and safer than a helicopter.

      • You say that the battery technology to make PL viable is “becoming available”. Can you shed more light on this magic dust”? Hydrogen cells? Also why do you think eVTOL is inherently safer than helicopters? Helicopters have been around for a long time. As a side note the V22 program (similar in a way to Archer’s tilt rotor concept) is on the verge of being cancelled.

      • Experience. Fast charging is available but they don’t mention the deleterious decline in the cycle life of lithium batteries when they are fast charged or fast discharged. Runaway cells and fire is another result. When you are in the air, a pilot just cannot pull over to the side of road! The only solution is an onboard generating system. That is why hybrids out sell “all electric” cars.

        • Thanks for your response, Don. Fortunately, experience (which is backward-looking) doesn’t account for future advances which, of course, haven’t yet occurred.

          As an aside, it would have been more helpful if you could have offered some language from one of the prospective aircraft or battery manufacturers citing your 20-minute/8-hour ratio, but I guess you ride the horse you brought to the race!

          Have a great day!

          • As the increase in range of new batteries slows, I seriously doubt they’ll ever get us the same performance as avgas. I’m sorry, but why would anyone pay more for something that can do less?

    • I leased a Hyundai Ioniq 6 one year ago. It is by far the best car I have ever owned. Maximum range is about 300 miles depending on terrain on the route. I can fast charge it if I need to, but I installed a 220 charger at home and now charge it to 80% between midnight and 5 A.M. when rates are less. Range is not a problem unless the owner takes frequent long trips, which most of us do not. I recently took a 450 mile trip and made two short stops along the way to charge up. My maintenance cost for one year has been $15 to rotate the tires. If I wanted to, I could beat a Corvette off the line because my car has no transmission and dual motors and produces 100% torque at the start. Hyundai will offer a 2025 Ionic 5 that has nearly 700 horsepower. What’s not to like?

  4. Am curious what type of Airman Certificate will be required to fly one of these? Helicopter? Multi engine?

    • Hi, Kthom! The FAA will use a new “powered lift” aircraft category. See the FAA’s Advanced Air Mobility website for more details.

      Have a great day!

  5. Wright bros., Kitty Hawk, 12 December, 1903 – 12 seconds for a total distance of 120 ft (37 m)

    • I’m sure that, had the above naysayers been there, they’d all be saying what a silly waste it was.

    • When automobiles were introduced early in the 20th century there was tremendous opposition to them. People complained that they were noisy, dangerous and caused horses to bolt in the towns. Some towns banned them altogether! A big cause of the opposition to electric vehicles is nostalgia for gas driven cars and trucks and opposition by people whose business or income depends on gas engines. EVs do not carry volatile and dangerous gasoline and electric motors are tremendously more reliable than gas engines and require much less maintenance. Some electric motors and generators in the U.S. have been in use for 100 years or more. Would you like to stop worrying about an engine out incident? Of course better batteries are needed, just like it took a while for autos to operate at more than 12 mph. Basically, technology like life moves on and if you do not like it you can get a horse!

  6. This clearly a nascent situation. It’s complicated by new complex technologies, high costs, and unclear market parameters. This is all occurring because the global warming situation is becoming more dire, which the majority of earth scientists (and to my way of understanding, just common sense) attribute to the burning of carboniferous substances at a prodigious rate in the last 100 or so years. Add an increasingly large global human population, all of whom want to live comfortably (i.e., electrical powered appliances, motorized mobility options, supermarket food, climate controlled homes, etc.), power sources that are “clean” or at the very least “cleaner” will be needed. Progress is a messy process. And the path is strewn with instances of “oh, that didn’t exactly work as we thought it would”.

  7. Looks fabulous! So smooth and stable. I’d fly in one of those over an Osprey any day (they always looked dodgy to me). No mention of conventional landing option but looks as if it could use a runway easily enough. Great to see such progress.

  8. Big wrench in the economic model is the requirement to have a pilot onboard and the pilot certification requirements. For the foreseeable future, the operating costs of these vehicles are going to be more like commercial helicopters than taxis.

  9. Has anyone thought of just how the NAS is going to accommodate all this fabulous EV traffic? Especially in already congested Class B airspace when the weather is on the ground and the birds are walking?

    • That’s an interesting point. I’d like to know what will happen with all the unused class B space. I suspect, with a shiny new industry and jobs in the public eye, that class B will suddenly be something that the FAA has to more fully justify.
      If air taxi really becomes a thing, new airspace management likely will evolve. I’d expect FAA intransigence will get cured, too.

  10. That is wicked COOL! IMHO. I suppose it’s human nature to fear change. Thank goodness, some have gumption enough to push through the fear and embrace the challenge. Build it, try it, break it, rebuild it, try it, break it, rebuild it, try it again…. How’s Space X doing?

  11. As someone involved in testing & certification of many types of aircraft, I love to see the scope of ignorance, pipe-dream folly, and plain stupidity neatly wrapped up in a blinding blanket of passionate enthusiasm. The only way to make a short range eVTOL viable with current & on the horizon technology is with rapid change battery packs. And that assumes ATC traffic considerations get addressed as does the piloting licensure issue. As for unmanned carrying passengers on new & novel concepts your looking a decade or so out. And that’s if Sky Kings development process gets done before pax are allowed onboard. Of course it will happen because there is political will (Congress is for sale!) and there are lots of high-tech investment $ to buy the political will. Even with the many iterations of his flying car, Moller could have never envisioned being able to rip off investment at this scale.

  12. Without time to address all the naysayers concerns, I would point the following. Regarding approach infrastructure and support you need to look no further than Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport (KSGH). They have created an integrated environment for charging, boarding, deplaning, maintenance and a full-sized semi-truck trailer containing a flight sim / trainer to certify pilots on the spot. Parking is plentiful and easily expanded and they also have a charge station for your EV. So that’s all done. Regarding electrical cars, I’ve been driving a Tesla Model X for 5 years and it’s the best car experience I’ve had, by far. Now waiting on a CyberTruck. All these innovations are off the drawing board and operational. I hope I can land a Joby or Archer at my home within the next 5 years.

  13. The notion of ANY electric airplane is ridiculous given the constraints of current battery technology and the need to defeat gravity (different than a ground vehicle). Those who believe some ‘new magic’ battery technology is on the cusp are deluding themselves from reality. NOW, add to that the VTOL mode where even more energy is required to get the thing airborne and then translate into horizontal flight and back makes the idea even nuttier. Would there be a small market for such machines, sure … even I’ll capitulate to that … esp. military needs. But as some sort of panacea that’s gonna grow widely … fuhgetaboutit. Even in this evolution, notice how short the flight was. In the end, these things have to make a profit and I HIGHLY doubt that’ll ever happen!

    • There seems to be a dotted line … (insert new battery or hydrogen cell or miniature nuclear reactor here) …. associated with eVTOL. All the politics and taxpayer money in the world thrown at it can’t change the underlying physical limitations unless there is a fundamental breakthrough in new battery storage or lightweight energy generation technology.

  14. While ya’all argue about how great electric powered vehicles are (or aren’t), everyone is ignoring the elephant in the room…
    Multirotor method of flight control (instantly changing the speed of fixed-pitch propellers to affect 6 axis control) works great for small applications like photography with limitations (like needing gyro stabilized cameras) but that method of flight control will not scale to man-capable sized aircraft. Simple Newtonian physics doom this method of flight control when the aircraft gets over a couple thousand pounds gross weight. Besides, tilting the entire aircraft to change the thrust vector to maneuver for take-off, landing and to compensate for wind will result in unacceptable ride quality for the (paying) passengers (although I suppose it is possible to put the PAX in a gyro stabilized pod like the camera on a DJI drone).
    These limitations could be overcome by adding collective and cyclic to the rotors so that the thrust and thrust vector can be varied while spinning the rotors at a constant speed but a what cost? But if a single rotor system makes helicopters too expensive, how the heck is an aircraft with 16 rotor systems going to be cheaper?
    Even if a magical quick-charge battery is developed that has the energy to weight density to solve the range problem, the fixed-pitch multi-rotor concept will never work for man-capable aircraft.
    You heard it here first…

      • Actually Rush, I think they do agree as they do not have a vehicle with a gross weight over “a couple thousand pounds gross weight”, at least one that has actually flown.

    • Kris interesting comment on ride quality. Can you explain more why the fixed-pitch quadcopter concept doesn’t scale to aircraft over a few thousand pounds?

      • Since you asked Bill.

        As the aircraft’s weight, specifically mass, increases, so does the need for thrust. Because the only way to control the aircraft is by (near) instantly changing the RPM of the rotors, bigger motors are needed along with bigger speed controllers and bigger batteries. Not just for more thrust, but to overcome the inertia of the larger spinning rotors. The aircraft now needs a stronger (heavier) structure which means more thrust. So… bigger rotors, so bigger motors, so bigger batteries, so bigger speed controllers, so heavier structure and so on and so on… Mulit-Multi-Multi rotor systems (eg: Volocoptor) attempt to circumvent this problem with many, many small rotor systems but now the aircraft becomes aerodynamically inefficient and structurally complex.

        Even if a magical light weight motor/rotor/speed controller along with a magical quick charging light weight power source is developed, the ride quality will be unacceptable. All current aircraft, fixed wing, rotor wing (gyro and heli), and lighter than air all fly with the “ball centered” and the occupants experience no lateral G-forces. Fixed-pitch multi-rotor aircraft must tilt the entire aircraft to change the lift/thrust vector. This will result in unacceptable ride quality for the (paying) passengers because of the constantly changing lateral Gs.

        Archer and Joby appear to be trying a hybrid system with tilting rotors and non-fixed pitch blades to address both problems. This approach might actually (eventually) work but the cost will be prohibitive.

  15. Batteries are one way to store electricity, and the state of the art with regard to battery technology is changing. Right now, Lithium ion is king, but experimental Sodium ion is coming along, as well as others. There is a whole lot more sodium on the planet than lithium. Another thing for electrical storage is currently being studied, and that is capacitors. I am not an electrical engineer, but I do know that we use capacitors for electricity storage for other devices. Does anyone on this list know about current research and development of improvement of capacitors?

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