Archer Launches eVTOL into Crowded Marketplace

 - May 21, 2020, 9:22 AM
Startup Archer is still working to define the design for its planned eVTOL aircraft, but the current concept features a fixed-wing and six propellers. [Photo: Archer]

U.S. startup Archer on Thursday announced plans to bring an eVTOL aircraft to market. Backers of the Palo Alto, California-based company include Walmart eCommerce CEO Marc Lore, as well as cofounders Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein, who recently sold recruitment platform Vettery to the Adecco Group for $100 million.

Archer is still in the early stages of defining its as-yet-unnamed piloted aircraft, which it said would carry four passengers up to 60 miles at speeds of up to 150 mph. The company has recruited several engineers from rival eVTOL startups, such as former Wisk engineering v-p Tom Muniz and Geoff Bower, who was formerly chief engineer with Airbus’s Vahana project. Archer's 40-strong team also includes engineers from Joby Aviation and NASA.

The company is targeting initial type certification under EASA’s new special condition rules for eVTOL aircraft. As such, it said the all-electric aircraft will have a maximum takeoff weight not exceeding 7,000 pounds.

The design also will feature a wing to increase potential range and speed, as well as reduce noise. An early representation of the proposed concept shows six presumably tilting propellers fitted to the wing and a V-shaped tail.

“We are still evaluating different concepts and the architecture, including lift plus cruise and vectored thrust,” said Adcock. “We’re looking at what part of the battery [capacity] is accessible for cruise, and the need to negotiate around [emergency power] reserves and trying to design around the worst possible [operating] conditions.”

Archer’s founders have yet to publish a timeline for certification and service entry. They told AIN they plan to spend the next 12 to 18 months defining the design and building an 80 percent scale demonstrator aircraft that it intends to fly in 2021. The company confirmed that it has already flown a number of subscale models and is continuing with tests for these. 

Archer has not disclosed how much launch capital it has raised for the program but confirmed that Lore, investing in a personal capacity, is the main backer. He sold retail website to Walmart for around $3 billion and previously sold the now-defunct Quidsi portal to Amazon for $545 million in 2010.

According to Goldstein, the cost of getting an eVTOL into commercial service is likely to exceed $1 billion. He indicated that Archer will seek strategic investors, pointing to recent examples in the sector, such as Japanese carmaker Toyota’s backing for Joby and the major investment made by the Korean automotive group Hyundai.

Acknowledging a large number of contenders in the eVTOL and urban air mobility sector, Adcock told AIN, “There needs to be a crowd because [the new technology and business model] is very challenging and we wouldn’t be here without having seen what is possible.”

Some of Archer’s competitors have been working on eVTOL and urban air mobility plans for several years and say they will be ready for service entry as soon as 2023. The company indicated that it views the rollout of this mode of transportation as being a longer-term project that will span at least 10 to 20 years. It intends to be involved in operating its aircraft and also, with the support of partners, in developing all aspects of supporting infrastructure.

“We’ve already done a lot of work on the business case for eVTOL, and we believe it needs to generate money from the start to be sustainable,” commented Goldstein. “This involves getting a magic formula right between speed, range, payload, and noise.”

Archer's launch comes as a boost to the eVTOL sector, with questions having been raised in recent months about whether its huge investment needs can be met in Covid-19 market conditions. It is the first new program launch since the start of the pandemic.

This story comes from the new resource developed by AIN to provide objective, independent coverage and analysis of new aviation technology, including electric aircraft developments.