Archer gears up for Midnight unveiling with Maker’s first wingborne flight

Archer Aviation announced it has completed the first wingborne flight of its Maker eVTOL prototype, and expects to complete a full transition flight in the coming weeks.

During its third-quarter earnings call, Archer reiterated its aggressive goal to certify its eVTOL aircraft in 2024 and begin commercial operations in 2025. Archer Aviation Image

The news came in a third-quarter financial update, just days ahead of the planned unveiling of Midnight, the first production eVTOL from Archer, in an open house on Nov. 16.

“We’ve made great progress in 2022,” said Adam Goldstein, CEO of Archer, in a call with analysts and investors. “We believe the hard work we’re doing now to advance our go-to-market efforts, aircraft technology, and certification will put us in a position to be first to market, and win substantial market share once we get there.”

Archer also outlined an updated path to certification for its eVTOL with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), with a target certification date of sometime in 2024.

If successful with certification, Archer plans to deliver its first aircraft in early 2025. This would be an important step toward the launch of Archer’s urban air mobility network, also targeted for sometime in 2025.

Archer’s major partners include United Airlines, which has agreed to buy 100 aircraft from Archer as part of a $1 billion investment announced in 2021.

Earlier this week, the companies also revealed plans for what they said will be the first commercial electric air taxi route in the U.S.

“We remain highly engaged, working in partnership with FAA at all levels — from the administrator and head of aviation safety down to our day-to-day contacts throughout the administration,” said Tom Muniz, chief operating officer of Archer. “We are working to progress on certification as efficiently as possible, and the dial-up to date has been highly constructive.”

Archer plans to unveil its Midnight production eVTOL aircraft on Nov. 16. Archer Aviation Image

Midnight aircraft draws on Maker insights

Archer has developed its Midnight production aircraft in tandem with its Maker prototype, with the goal of expediting Midnight’s entry to market.

The company intends to reveal more about Midnight next week, but Muniz said the production aircraft has the “same aircraft configuration as Maker.”

“But it is slightly larger in order to support the 1,000-plus pounds of payload, and carry a pilot plus four passengers,” he said. “We are confident this is a winning strategy. The invaluable technical data from Maker has given us confidence in the aircraft configuration and our ability to execute the Midnight program to plan.”

Maker is a full-scale, winged eVTOL prototype with 12 independent electric motors, a top speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour), and a range of up to 60 miles (97 kilometers), Archer said.

The company said it conducted Maker’s first wingborne flight on Nov. 2, in which the wing generated the majority of the lift required for flight.

This sets the stage for what the company said would be a critical milestone before year’s end — a full transition flight, where the tilt propellers will be locked in the cruise position, Muniz said.

“Our strategy from the beginning was to validate key aspects of our aircraft configuration, including the aerodynamics, flight controls and tilt propeller system, on Maker first, then leverage these lessons learned in the development of Midnight,” he said.

Means of compliance pending FAA reacceptance

Another key goal before year-end is to see the FAA reaccept Archer’s means of compliance (MOC). The MOC is a detailed list of design, analysis and testing standards that will be used to demonstrate the aircraft is safe and complies with airworthiness criteria.

“We believe we are very close,” Goldstein said.

The FAA opted to review the previously-accepted MOC to ensure they’re still applicable after a decision to certify eVTOLs as a special class of aircraft under Federal Aviation Regulations, Part 21.17 (b).

This resulted in new requirements to the certification basis for Archer, including one related to bird strikes and another covering safety features related to the complete loss of propulsive power in flight, Muniz said.

“Both of these new regulatory requirements are already addressed in Midnight’s design and thus, we don’t anticipate they will have any impact on Midnight’s development or timeline for certification,” he said. “We anticipate the reacceptance of the means compliance to be largely administrative.”

Archer and United Airlines have selected their first commercial route in the U.S. for Archer’s eVTOL air taxi. Archer Aviation Image

Manufacturing site selected, but not revealed

Archer has also selected its manufacturing site for the aircraft, and is finalizing agreements with the state and local governments involved, Goldstein said.

“We expect to make an announcement on this in the very near term,” he said, stopping short of revealing the location.

He later emphasized Archer’s work with strategic partner Stellantis, the auto manufacturing giant that includes brands like Jeep, Chrysler, Fiat, Ram and Maserati.

“They’ve played a critical role in our manufacturing journey to date,” Goldstein said. “Building millions of cars annually, Stellantis has a core competency in high-volume manufacturing. We have been working with Stellantis since 2019, across different engineering projects, and we continue to leverage the deep manufacturing and design expertise.”

Operating expenses drive Q3 loss

Archer said it ended the third quarter of 2022 with $600.6 million in cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments on its balance sheet.

Total operating expenses for the quarter were $93.8 million, and the company reported a net loss of $91 million using generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).

Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), a non-GAAP financial measure, was reported at a loss of $60.1 million for the quarter.

“Archer continues to be laser focused on doing what we say we are going to do with respect to our operating and financial goals,” said Mark Mesler, chief financial officer of Archer. “I am excited with how our team is executing.”