Last year, the average distance that American drivers cruised around in their cars each day was just under 33 miles. That metric, which comes from a AAA survey, may not sound like much, but an aviation startup called Archer is aiming to focus on journeys that are even shorter. Its goal is to use electric flying machines for airborne hops above traffic or waterways, and the company just revealed an aircraft it calls Midnight. It’s designed to make jaunts that measure just 20 miles, with time in between for recharging.
Midnight, which has not yet left the ground, is intended to hold four passengers, have a pilot at the controls, and wing itself through the air at 150 mph. “It can carry 1,000 pounds of payload, and it can travel up to 100 miles,” Adam Goldstein, the company’s CEO, said at an event yesterday. “But this vehicle was optimized around rapid, back-to-back, 20-mile trips in and around cities.” Some quick math suggests that the weight limit for the five humans on board and their bags will be around 200 pounds each.
One specific way that Archer hopes to make this short-hop plan a reality is through a partnership with United Airlines, which plans to purchase aircraft from the startup and has already given it $10 million. Earlier this month, the two companies said they plan to offer brief flights between Manhattan and Newark Liberty International Airport in Archer aircraft beginning in 2025.
That announcement mirrors one by Delta Air Lines and Joby Aviation in early October, which will focus on carrying people in an electric aircraft in either New York City or Los Angeles into an airport, where they can then catch a regular, fossil-fuel-powered flight in a traditional aircraft.
The range that Archer is promising is either on par with, or slightly below, its competitors in the eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft) space. Last month, Wisk revealed its gen-six aircraft, which is boxy, yellow, and has an advertised range of about 90 miles. (Wisk, which is engaged in a lawsuit with Archer, has a unique plan: to offer autonomous flights for four passengers with no pilot, and just ground-based human supervisors.) Another electric aircraft maker, Beta Technologies, is aiming for missions that are about 150 miles. Joby, on its website, boasts a “max range” of the same. The more people or cargo that one of these craft try to carry, the shorter the distance they’ll be able to eke out of the battery power.
Like its competitors, Archer’s design for its flying machine relies on battery power and electric motors powering propellers. In the case of Midnight, there are a dozen props: Six in the front of the wing can tilt to help the craft take off vertically and then transition into forward flight, and six in the back don’t tilt, but nonetheless spin and produce lift for takeoff and landing. A smaller aircraft from Archer, called Maker, has functioned as their uncrewed testbed to pave the way for Midnight. It has flown numerous times but hasn’t yet made the transition to completely forward flight with its forward props tilted all the way down.
Archer is also leaning heavily into the design details of its Midnight aircraft, aiming to evoke nostalgic yet futuristic feelings about flight.
“The golden age of flying—the 1950s—was a great source of inspiration for us,” Julien Montousse, the company’s head of design and innovation, said at the unveiling. “We want to bring this magical feeling back.” The aircraft, he added, “had to be beautiful.”
Beauty may be an inspirational element when it comes to any aircraft, but the challenge for all these companies will be demonstrating that their flying machines are safe, reliable, and a convenient, comfortable, and affordable alternative to taking ground transportation to a destination like an airport (and of course, they’ll need to pass regulatory scrutiny, too). Otherwise, people are likely to stick to trains, Lyfts, and other automobiles.
Watch a brief video about Midnight, below.