Midnight™ is an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft being developed by Archer Aviation, an aircraft company based in the US, to offer air mobility services to civilians and military personnel.
The aircraft represents the evolved version of Archer’s Maker prototype eVTOL aircraft, which successfully confirmed its unique 12-tilt-6 configuration and essential enabling technologies in November 2022.
In the same month, Archer launched the Midnight production aircraft, which will provide urban air mobility that is not only faster, sustainable and cost-effective but also prioritises passenger safety with minimal noise levels.
Archer is working with the US Department of Defense (DoD) to develop Midnight aircraft for military applications within the framework of the Air Force’s AFWERX programme. The company has been part of the programme since 2021.
The Midnight aircraft offers a significantly safer and quieter option compared to helicopters while being more economically efficient for the US military to transport, operate and maintain in operational environments.
Midnight offers the potential to improve responsiveness while providing flexibility and operational efficiency in a variety of mission scenarios, such as transporting personnel, providing logistics support and conducting rescue missions.
Midnight eVTOL aircraft development details
Archer’s inaugural Midnight aircraft was assembled in May 2023, following a successful two-year flight test campaign involving two Maker aircraft.
The Midnight aircraft was granted a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Special Airworthiness Certificate in August 2023, allowing for the commencement of flight testing.
The company aims to begin the commercial operations of the aircraft in 2025 and reach scaled operations by 2028. It is expected to deploy 6,000 Midnight aircraft by 2030, as part of its commercialisation strategy.
Midnight eVTOL design details
Midnight is a four-passenger aircraft with a pilot and is designed for consecutive back-to-back flights with a minimum turnaround time between each flight.
The airframe is composed of a combination of lightweight carbon fibre and highly toughened resin systems, commonly referred to as prepreg. The combination not only imparts strength and durability to the aircraft but also serves to decrease its overall weight, thereby bolstering aircraft safety.
The full wing-borne aircraft features vertical take-off and landing capabilities, a low noise profile, a proprietary electric powertrain system and a design payload capacity of more than 1,000lbs, representing the potential to usher in a significant transformation in the realm of military aviation and operations.
Midnight’s cockpit will feature the advanced G3000® integrated flight deck with large format displays and intuitive controls.
The avionics system will be equipped with four ultra-compact avionics platform (UCAP) flight control computers (FCCs) and a SkyNaute navigation system.
The FCCs feature redundant inertial navigation, global navigation satellite system (GNSS), and above-ground level (AGL) sensors that are designed to provide the pilot with dependable and resilient data.
Midnight eVTOL is powered by a proprietary electric powertrain system. It is equipped with the lithium-ion-based Olympus battery pack, which offers a maximum power of 1,300kW at a voltage of 800V.
A total of six independent battery packs are strategically arranged in the wings of the aircraft, ensuring dependable performance and balanced weight distribution. Each battery pack supports a pair of electric engines.
Midnight employs a configuration of 12 electric engines, with identical units positioned in the front and rear. The innovative design incorporates an integrated gearbox that delivers optimal efficiency while keeping weight to a minimum.
The independent power supply for both the forward and aft electric engines enhances the aircraft’s ability to safely complete a flight even in the event of a complete battery pack failure.
The aircraft produces up to 45 decibels less noise than a helicopter as it uses fully electric propulsion, making it almost inaudible to those on the ground.
The Midnight aircraft is designed to perform back-to-back short-distance flights of around 20 miles with quick charging intervals of approximately 12 minutes between the flights. It can exceed 3,000 flight cycles and is designed for flying up to a range of 100 miles.
The aircraft is engineered for speeds of up to 150 miles per hour.
Archer secured an investment of $215m in a funding round led by Stellantis, an automotive manufacturer, in August 2023. Other investors in the funding round include Boeing, United Airlines, and ARK Investment Management.
The investment increases Archer’s total funding accumulated so far to more than $1.1bn. It will support the company’s plan to commence the aircraft’s commercial operation by 2025.
Archer collaborated with Stellantis to manufacture the aircraft in January 2023.
Hexcel, an aerospace company, supplies the carbon fibre and other advanced composite materials for the fabrication of the aircraft.
Garmin, a technology company, is supplying the G3000® integrated flight deck for the aircraft’s cockpit.
Archer collaborated with E-One Moli Energy, a lithium-ion cells and batteries manufacturer, to manufacture and supply battery cells.
Safran Electronics & Defense, an electronic company, is supplying the ultra-compact avionics platform flight control computer and the SkyNaute navigation system for the aircraft.
Orders and deliveries
Archer received a pre-delivery payment of $100m from United Airlines to deliver 100 production eVTOL aircraft in August 2022, as part of the purchase agreement signed in February 2021 covering up to $1.5bn in aircraft sales. The first designated route for the Midnight aircraft in the US chosen by the companies is between Newark Liberty International Airport and Downtown Manhattan Heliport, with an estimated travel time of less than ten minutes.
In July 2023, Archer signed a contract worth up to $142m with the US Air Force (USAF) through the Air Force’s AFWERX programme to deliver up to six Midnight™ aircraft. The AFWERX programme of the Air Force is dedicated to assisting the AFWERX Agility Prime programme in evaluating the transformative possibilities of the vertical flight market and eVTOL technologies for the US DoD objectives.
The first $1m instalment of the $142m was provided by the US Air Force in October 2023. It will be used for a mobile flight simulator, which will be jointly used by the US Air Force and Archer for training Air Force pilots and personnel and evaluating flight controls on eVTOL aircraft capabilities.
The simulator will also help in enhancing the USAF personnel’s comprehension of Archer’s civilian eVTOL aircraft platform and the potential for future aircraft development for Air Force applications.