The U.S. Army is to support flight testing of the Beta Technologies Alia 250 eVTOL aircraft to assess possible military applications. Under a contract announced today, which does not mention specific financial backing for the program, Army engineers will participate in flight testing, “to evaluate mission applicability, including measures of range, altitude, endurance, and payload limits before testing specific cargo and logistics missions.”
Beta’s flight-test program has also been supported by the U.S. Air Force, which last year issued military airworthiness approval for the Alia and provided funding under an earlier contract as part of its Agility Prime program. The company has conducted multiple flights between its headquarters at Burlington International Airport in Vermont and nearby Plattsburg in New York. The longest flight to date with the all-electric aircraft, which uses fixed-pitch propellers, was 205 miles and it has cruised at altitudes of 8,000 feet.
“This partnership with the Army marks another important step in the military’s commitment to advancing and adopting sustainable electric aviation solutions,” said Beta founder and CEO Kyle Clark. “We’re gratified by the continued support of the sector, and this allows us to accelerate our development of Alia as an incredibly safe and reliable logistics aircraft for both military and civil applications.”
The company’s board of directors includes Will Roper, the former U.S. assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics. He was instrumental in establishing the Agility Prime program, which is seeking to support efforts to exploit the potential for eVTOL aircraft for use in military missions, mainly through small business technology transfer contracts.
During the Reagan National Defense Forum held on December 5, 2021, the Air Force's chief of staff, General Charles Brown, praised the Afwerx program for expediting the development of technology that could strengthen national defense. "It has marked a real cultural shift [in how public and private sectors collaborate], so we work very closely together rather than just pushing [a product or technology] back and forth over a fence until it works," he commented.
In the commercial aviation market, several prospective customers have signed “rights to purchase” the Alia, which is expected to complete FAA Part 23 type certification in 2024. These include express delivery group UPS, which plans to add 150 aircraft to its fleet, the medical group United Therapeutics, which intends to transport human organs for transplant, and passenger charter flight booking platform Blade Urban Air Mobility.
Beta intends to support operators by providing electric charging infrastructure that can be deployed across a network of locations.