A new air taxi startup called Archer has entered the air taxi race with a strong team, solid backing, and a work-in-progress vision for electric aviation. Founded by a pair of young hedge-fund entrepreneurs, Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein, the company has backing from Marc Lore, president of Walmart’s eCommerce property. Combined with their own stake pulled from the $100 million sale of an online recruiting company the pair created, the initial investments should get Archer through the demonstrator phase of development.
Based in Palo Alto, California, Archer has 40 engineers at work on its five-seat (four passenger plus one pilot) aircraft, which in early renderings shows a V-tail and 12 tilting propellers — three pairs on each wing — for vertical takeoffs and landings, and most of the lift for horizontal flight coming from the wide fixed wing. Though the founders are new to the aviation industry, they’ll be relying on a team of veterans, including Tom Muniz, formerly of Wisk, and ex-Airbus Vahana engineer Geoff Bower.
Also from Wisk: GNC lead Alan Chen, electric propulsion lead Diederik Marius, director of engineering Johnny Melack, and chief avionics architect Scott Furman. Meanwhile, Bower leads the Airbus refugees: Damien Bardon in avionics, Giovanni Droandi in aerodynamics, and Matt Deal as the company’s flight-test engineer. Acoustics lead Ben Goldman came from Joby Aviation, another front-running eVTOL startup.
For their part, Adcock and Goldstein said they’re bringing a startup mentality to the effort that will encourage the team to be fast and nimble and to follow “non-traditional” paths toward the realization of their vision. “We’re problem-solvers, and I think most importantly, we’re optimists,” Goldstein said. “It’s critical to help push this industry forward, and over the last six months we’ve surrounded ourselves with eVTOL experts so we can marry the business side and entrepreneurial spirit with the raw talent of those who are able to actually do it.”
He added that the bottom-line reality for the company is that their product has to be economically viable, safe, and quiet. “Then you want to layer on top of that the ability to mass-manufacture the aircraft and get it through certification. This is the vehicle that we think will have some of the highest performance in industry, and also one that you can actually in the quickest amount of time.”
Archer will also be looking to the automotive industry for guidance on manufacturing, particularly in the realm of carbon composites, which pose a considerable challenge for aircraft companies looking to mass-produce lightweight passenger-carrying vehicles.
The founders said they’ve developed subscale prototypes to understand the handling qualities, and plan to have an 80-percent-scale demonstrator in flight sometime next year. Though some companies are opting for fixed-rotor designs, typically with pusher-props to boost speed in horizontal flight, Archer will be among those who use tilting rotors to achieve both vertical lift and forward propulsion. This is a more complex solution, but one they think will deliver the performance they want.
“There’s a lot of challenges to lift-plus-cruise configurations, not in certification or complexity, but just based on performance,” Adcock said. “It’s critical to build a vehicle that can get enough utilization and passenger to create an economically viable business, and there are too many range considerations with the lift-plus-cruise model.”
Furthermore, Adcock said they were coached by Mark Moore, Uber Elevate’s director of strategy, to be strategic about that choice. “Mark told us to just embrace the complexity, but do it in a smart way,” Adcock said. He interprets that as developing a system that’s as simple as it can be for a dual-use component: the rotors they’re developing will use single mechanism for bringing the blades up and down, instead of multiple systems — though he wouldn’t elaborate on the specifics. He said it would also allow for simpler and less expensive manufacturing.
Additionally, battery technology will be developed in-house, though with commercial off-the-shelf cells, and it will pursue autonomy in tandem with aircraft development, though at launch they will have a human pilot at the controls. The aircraft should be able to achieve 60 miles (96 kilometers) of range at up to 150 mph (241 km/h), all using current battery technology, and it will be targeted explicitly at the passenger market promoted by Uber Elevate, rather than cargo, commercial, or law enforcement, as they see that as being the most impactful option, given the problems of urban congestion.
“There are other markets that are also really interesting, and we are not saying that we won’t go into them,” Goldstein said. “But our primary focus today is confronting that big challenge of fixing traffic.”
Archer hasn’t defined any specific timeline yet for its test flights or introduction into service, and it indeed seems very early in the process for the company. Its owners, however, seem unfazed by the challenge, and in fact embrace their status as relative late-comers in the effort.
“We’re really working on trying not just to build something to show, but also build something that proves it has the performance, safety, and noise levels of a real aircraft that will succeed in this market,” Goldstein said. “We largely view ourselves as the underdog, and we need to prove a lot here. But we have an incredible team with which to do it.”