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March 16, 2022

USAF conduct first airman flight of military-worthy electric aircraft

The ALIA aircraft is expected to have a range of around 250 nautical miles.

The US Air Force (USAF) has conducted the first airman flight of an electric aircraft with military airworthiness.

The milestone was achieved when USAF pilots Hank Griffiths and Jonathan Appleby flew BETA Technologies’ electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft called ALIA.

The maiden flight was conducted at BETA’s hangar and testing facility in Plattsburgh, New York.

According to a USAF statement, service engineers and BETA team have been working since 2020 on the AFWERX Agility Prime programme to achieve election aviation capability.

The collaboration is working under a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research contract.

The ALIA aircraft has been in development for three years and it underwent key technical advancements in the last two years of the partnership.

It was conceived as a cargo carrier but now the fully electric aircraft can accommodate up to five passengers plus a pilot.

ALIA is expected to have a range of around 250 nautical miles and a top speed of up to 150k. It can also be recharged in under an hour.

Besides developing the aircraft, BETA is also installing charging infrastructure across the country to enable electric transportation.

Commenting on the first flight, AFWERX airworthiness and test lead and chief of engineering Hank Griffiths said: “Today’s air force qualitative evaluation flight is the first of many that we will be doing with BETA Technologies and our other Agility Prime vendors.

“In addition to accelerating these company’s path to FAA type certification by providing access to USAF engineering expertise and test infrastructure, we are also evaluating these prototypes for opportunities to utilise them for unique military missions.

“We need government pilots to accomplish those evaluations and this is the first step in developing the training and experimentation plans to do so.”

He added that the test flights will help in future use case determinations and certification of eVTOL aircraft for defence and commercial applications.

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