Small eVTOLs like Archer’s Midnight are unlikely to replace military helicopters for many missions. That didn’t stop Archer from stacking a simulated U.S. Navy aircraft carrier with nothing but Midnights to tout its Air Force contract win.

U.S. eVTOL developers increasingly look to defense as hedge against FAA delays

With a leaderless FAA complicating their path to commercial operations, U.S. eVTOL developers are placing more weight on military and government applications.

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Release Date
August 1, 2023
U.S. eVTOL developers increasingly look to defense as hedge against FAA delays
Since its launch in early 2020, the U.S. Air Force’s Agility Prime program has aimed to provide developers of electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft with a bridge to the commercial market. Today, that bridge is looking increasingly important as the chasm separating eVTOL developers from Federal Aviation Administration certification threatens to become wider.

Archer Aviation on July 31 became the latest company to announce major support from the U.S. Department of Defense through Agility Prime. The California-based eVTOL developer has received a Small Business Innovative Research Phase III contract from the Air Force’s innovation arm, AFWERX, for operational experimentation with Archer’s Midnight eVTOL. Archer said the indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract includes the delivery of up to six Midnight aircraft to the Air Force, along with the sharing of additional flight test data, pilot training, and the development of maintenance and repair operations.

Related: Special Report: Surveying the eVTOL competitive landscape

The contract runs through July 2028, and the Air Force is only committing around $1.3 million up front. However, Archer said that the total potential value of its Air Force contracts is $142 million. Earlier this year, California’s Joby Aviation announced that its own contract with the Air Force now has a total potential value of up to $131 million and includes the delivery of up to nine eVTOLs to the Air Force starting early next year. Vermont-based Beta Technologies has also reported receiving around $100 million in Agility Prime contracts.

As The Air Current explored in detail last year, many of Agility Prime’s original champions have since moved on from the Air Force and current Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall is decidedly less enthusiastic about the program. Nevertheless, recent language from the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Defense (HAC-D and SAC-D) indicates that support for Agility Prime remains strong in Congress. The House has also signaled that it wants to see closer collaboration between the DoD and FAA, which in the absence of permanent leadership at the top of the agency has been sending mixed signals about its willingness to enable the timely launch of commercial air taxi operations.

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