The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

U.S. Air Force Pilots Take the Controls of Beta's Alia for First Crewed Military eVTOL Flight

A pair of  U.S. Air Force (USAF) pilots have conducted the first flight demonstration of Beta Technologies' Alia 250 eVTOL aircraft crewed by military personnel as part of the Afwerx Agility Prime program. The U.S. manufacturer today reported that on March 9, the all-electric vehicle was flown by Hank Griffiths, chief of engineering and airworthiness and test lead for the Air Force’s Afwerx team, and Major Jonathan Appleby.

Under an Agility Prime small business innovation research contract aimed at evaluating the potential for eVTOL aircraft to be used for military applications, USAF engineers have been working with the Beta team for two years. In May 2021 the Air Force awarded the first military airworthiness approval for a crewed electric aircraft to the six-seat Alia 250 that the company is aiming to start delivering in 2024.

According to Beta, the crewed test flights marked the next step in its partnership with the USAF. This is expected to give the Agility Prime team more data points to inform plans to electrify the Air Force inventory and to better understand the types of mission profiles that eVTOLs could undertake.

Before flying the Alia for around one hour each, both USAF pilots were able to study its performance manual. On March 7 and 8, they conducted extensive training that covered aircraft structures, electric motors, batteries, flight controls, avionics, aerodynamics, and safety.

Griffiths and Appleby then spent time practicing the flight test route in Beta’s so-called “thunderdome” simulator before taking the controls of the Alia accompanied by, respectively, test pilots Camron Guthrie and Lochie Ferrier. The flight tests took off from Beta’s facility in Plattsburgh, New York, which is 35 miles from the company’s headquarters in South Burlington, Vermont.

“Today’s USAF qualitative evaluation flight is the first of many that we will be doing with Beta Technologies and our other Agility Prime vendors,” Griffiths said after the flight. “In addition to accelerating these companies’ path to FAA type certification by providing access to USAF engineering expertise and test infrastructure, we are also evaluating these prototypes for opportunities to utilize them for unique military missions. We need government pilots to accomplish these evaluations, and this is the first step in developing the training and experimentation plans to do so.”

In December 2020, USAF Capt. Terrence McKenna conducted the first remotely-piloted flight of an eVTOL aircraft under the direct control of the government. McKenna, who is a reserve pilot and test and experimentation lead with the Agility Prime program, participated in remote-pilot-in-control exercises on Kitty Hawk’s Heavyside vehicle.

Beta has named the Alia after the Arctic tern bird, which it says flies farther than any other migratory bird when it relocates between the poles over a distance of nearly 25,000. The start-up is targeting a range of 250 nm and a top speed of 150 knots, with a full recharge time of under an hour.

As it continues the process of achieving type certification for the Alia, which has a 50-foot wingspan, Beta is also working on plans for a network of charging infrastructure across the U.S. It already has installed 60 charging stations between Vermont and Arkansas.