BETA Technologies has been awarded airworthiness approval for a manned electric aircraft by the US Air Force’s Agility Prime programme, with its ALIA eVTOL aircraft having already begun flying under the air force’s operational flight test program.

The U.S. Air Force spent more than a year assessing ALIA, conducting deep dives into engineering, operations and flight test capabilities against the demanding military 516c standard. Subject matter experts evaluated every aspect of ALIA for safety, design, and maintenance standards, as well as participated in the flight test campaign planning.

Under this contract, the air force will have access to the only manned, 7,000-pound class all-electric aircraft known to be flying in the world today. With this kind of open access and evaluation of operational test results, air force acquisition officials will be able to make data driven procurement decisions to best meet the military’s technical needs and will be informed by real assessments of military utility in the field.

In addition to field and real-life applications in the aircraft flight test program, BETA’s flight simulation and training facilities allow Air Force pilots and engineers to experience the future of eVTOL aircraft by rehearsing and testing ALIA in a variety of potential mission sets and scenarios.

Col. Nathan Diller, Director of AFWERX at the United States Air Force, said: “Achieving the first manned airworthiness authorization in the Agility Prime program is a key milestone. This not only unlocks the opportunity to begin Air Force directed manned flight tests, but it also shows the high level of maturity of this technology and the high level of maturity of Agility Prime partner companies like BETA.”

Agility Prime is designed to leverage and accelerate commercial innovation efforts. In a first of its kind arrangement, AFRL engineers used unique equipment and analysis capabilities to conduct Ground Vibration Testing (GVT), a method of dynamic structural analysis on ALIA. This valuable data provided by the GVT will be used to safely advance the flight test programme safely while providing valuable insight to the US Air Force on novel aircraft design.

The advanced urban air mobility technology simulator near the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in Springfield, Ohio, also provides easy access to the Air Force’s technical acquisition workforce, while the Washington, D.C. test facility provides an ideal venue to immerse senior leaders and decision makers in the electrified future. These state-of-the-art simulators are physics based and include weather, emergency handling, battle damage, and advanced mission scenario simulation.

Kyle Clark, BETA’s Founder and CEO, said: “Electric aviation is a National Security priority and fortunately this was recognized early by the Air Force. The speed and efficiency of the Air Force Agility Prime program to support sustainable electric aviation has been remarkable. The people and expertise that the Air Force has brought to the electric aviation industry and specifically our ALIA program is accelerating the development of incredibly capable, safe and reliable aircraft.”

Last month, BETA advanced to the next phase of its flight-testing programme, completing an interstate flight with ALIA from Plattsburgh, New York to Burlington International Airport in South Burlington, Vermont.

In accordance with FAA protocols regarding the ability of experimental aircraft to fly beyond a designated test area, BETA had to complete comprehensive testing to ensure reliable and predictable aircraft handling and performance. In the same week ALIA flew its first interstate flight, the aircraft set a new BETA record for endurance, range, and altitude.

BETA will continue testing aircraft capabilities and mission applicability including range, altitude, endurance and payload limits before testing specific cargo, logistic and other missions.

The quiet electric propulsion has a very low thermal and acoustic signature, enabling the aircraft to complement existing ground and air vehicles with new capabilities. Cost, maintainability and availability will be tracked and evaluated during operational test and evaluation. All of these benefits come with zero operational emissions, an important part of the Armed Forces sustainability goals.

Recently, BETA added to its growing customer list securing agreements with BLADE and UPS for its ALIA aircraft and charging stations.

BETA Technologies follows on from a similar announcement by Joby Aviation in December 2020, after the company’s four-seater prototype was announced as the the first eVTOL aircraft to provide transportation for military staff.