Archer Flies Out of Stealth
By Mike Hirschberg, Executive Director
Vertiflite, July/August 2020
On May 21, electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft startup Archer unveiled its plans and progress to the world. The company is led by co-founders Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein, serial entrepreneurs who recently sold hiring marketplace startup Vettery to The Adecco Group for over $100M.
The company, which said it is focused on improving mobility in cities, was officially founded in early 2020, though work began earlier.
An image of its preliminary aircraft design shows six five-bladed, highly tapered propellers; the company says the concept has six more propellers that are not visible in the image, but declined to elaborate. The wing is fixed but the propellers tilt up for vertical flight. The sleek fuselage is completed with a V-tail.
The company has flown subscale models and is now working on an 80%-scale demonstrator that should fly in 2021. At the time of program unveiling, the team was still completing the preliminary design.
Archer’s eVTOL aircraft (as yet unnamed) is designed to carry four passengers for up to 60 miles (nearly 100 km) at speeds up to 150 mph (240 km/h), using today’s battery technologies. The company aims to provide a faster, sustainable and affordable urban transportation option. Archer said “its unique design will also offer passengers increased safety while producing minimal noise compared to helicopters.”
The two co-founders stressed that they were designing the aircraft to robust standards, such as “a minimum 60 miles of range in the worst case condition” with today’s battery technology at end of life, in realistic flight conditions, with reserves, etc.
Initially, Archer plans to focus on dense markets with heavy traffic congestion. In the long term, Archer says it will expand its reach, developing a unique air taxi transportation network. “Our goal is to make our electric aircraft just as safe as commercial airliners,” the website states.
With a facility adjacent to the Palo Alto Airport (in the San Francisco Bay Area), Archer is “dedicated to reshaping urban air mobility, focusing on saving time for users in urban areas.”
Marc Lore, the serial entrepreneur and CEO of Walmart eCommerce, is the largest investor in the company. With Lore’s backing, Archer says it “has the capital needed to lead the urban air mobility market, while leveraging Lore’s unparalleled entrepreneurial perspective.” Lore has a track record of founding ventures “to solve consumer pain points.” Most recently, he sold Amazon-challenger, ecommerce brand Jet.com, to Walmart for $3.3B. Before starting Jet.com, he sold Quidsi to Amazon for $550M in 2010.
According to the website, the batteries will comprise approximately 2,200 lb (1,000 kg) of the overall 6,600 lb (3,000 kg) gross weight (i.e., one third). The aircraft is designed with a lift/drag ratio of 11 and will require 80 kWh for the cruise leg of the mission. Archer calculates 26 kWh for the hover segments and 37 kWh for reserve, and also includes 16 kWh that is inaccessible and 28 kWh for capacity fade over time, for a total requirement of 187 kWh and 143 kWh of usable energy. Archer’s calculations assume batteries with 80 kWh per 1,000 kg (288 kJ/kg or 634 kJ/lb), which is well within today’s battery capabilities, such as the Panasonic batteries used on Tesla automobiles.
In addition to taking a conservative, real-world approach to the technology challenges, they also noted they were not trying to be “first movers,” talking about delivering capability in “decades” rather than years: “We’re trying to be disciplined about bringing a real technology to market this decade and make this work,” said Adcock.
Taking the long view — targeting perhaps the second wave of eVTOL aircraft to come to market — to do it right and having deep pockets to hire top talent are hallmarks of Archer’s approach.
Goldstein said at the unveiling that the team was about 44 people total, including talent from competing Bay Area eVTOL startups Joby and Wisk, and Airbus’s Silicon Valley program, Vahana. Tom Muniz, previously the vice president of engineering at Wisk, has been named Archer’s vice president of engineering, while Geoff Bower serves as chief engineer, the title he held at Airbus Vahana. Alan Chen, who was the head of flight controls at Wisk, is now the guidance, navigation and control (GNC) lead for Archer, while Ben Goldman, previously the aeroacoustic lead at Joby, is the acoustics lead at Archer.
When the Vahana program ended in early 2020, most of the subsystem leads also moved over to Archer, including, for example, Giovanni Droandi (aerodynamics), Matt Deal (flight test) and Damien Bardon (avionics). The electric propulsion lead Dierderik Marius previously worked at Wisk, Joby Aviation, Joby Energy and Google’s Makani; the director of engineering Johnny Melack and the chief avionics architect Scott Furman previously had the same roles at Wisk.
In addition to having a team with each member having years of experience in electric VTOL development, Adcock and Goldstein noted that their next strategic hire is a seasoned expert in aircraft certification who will be announced in the coming weeks.
At unveiling, the company also listed 20 open positions on its website in business (2), flight physics (4), hardware (5), manufacturing (4), software and avionics (3), and systems and safety engineering (2).
More details on the company are available at www.flyarcher.com.