Julien Montousse (pronounced Montu-zay), studied at the Strate, Ecole de Design, later moved to General Motors (7 years) and then on to Mazda North American Operations (14 years), where he became Senior Director of Design.

He joined Archer in November 2020 as the company’s Vice President of Design & Innovation and has spent the last two years, along with his team, creating “The Midnight eVTOL Look.”

Archer co-Founder and CEO, Adam Goldstein, has said, “I swear, every time I hear Julien speak I feel like I need to go and get a sketchpad and start creating. He brings such an incredible emotional energy to the creative process.” Julien suggests in the interview, a spiritual outlook on life, has influenced the Midnight design.

The completed aircraft has a unique and breathtaking appeal. Julien and his team have raised the design bar very high.

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Chris Stonor Asks The Questions.

After an esteemed design career within the automotive industry why make the bold transition to eVTOLs?

During my early career I had a great interest in aquatic submersibles for diving purposes. This led me to become a design consultant for the SpaceX Dragon 2 interior. I loved the imposed constraints and challenges. It was what sparked my interest in aerospace.

While I had an amazing time at Mazda and learned a lot, I always knew aerospace would be my next big step. Air mobility is the new frontier to engage the human spirit and become connected with the planet. So, when the Archer opportunity came along, I jumped at the chance.

How did you gain the job?

The two co-founders messaged me in 2020. We met up. They showed me around Archer and discussed their vision. At the time, I was heading Mazda Design Americas in the U.S after having worked and lived a long period in Japan. Then overnight, I chose to change careers and start again from scratch.

Do you have any regrets over your decision?

Absolutely not. I have learned so much during the last two years. I needed new learning curves and challenges for me to grow and move forward in my work. But I still think of Mazda every day. They remain part of my family.

Are there any similarities between automotive and eVTOL design?

They’re quite different in their development. What we’re doing is bringing automotive design expertise to a mathematical-driven aerospace. In cars, there is a cushion between the chassis with all its components and the outer skin. This packaging exercise offers freedom to make the car attractive. In aerospace you don’t have this space. The aircraft structure is the skin under aerodynamic constrains, while being the same aesthetic outer surface. Therefore, it is much harder to create a beautiful plane. All the requirements need to be as one. For any slight surface deviation, for example, is a hit to the aircraft’s flight performance.

Julien Montousse Speaking (7′ – 14′.10″)

How many designers are there in your team?

We have between 15 and 20 people in the team who are some of the most talented in the world. We had to begin from scratch. The aircraft goal alongside the booking app to the vertiport infrastructure was to conceptualise a wholistic brand vision alongside an ideal customer experience. Fortunately, we have all the expertise in house to effectively prove both good and bad ideas. This speeds up the process. For every 20 ideas, there is usually one good one.

Where do you gain inspiration?

In the car industry, ideas tend to be individual. With Archer it is more of a collective effort. Every design solution must be interweaved with aircraft performance. This required certain disciplines to altogether design daily on a white board. It is a new process for me and very enlightening. Midnight has been a remarkable human story of shared design and engineering.

You must have worked very hard to transform the look of The Maker to Midnight in just two years?

It’s been an incredible time, although extremely challenging. We are cultivating the “challenger spirit” within the Design Team to overcome challenges and so we have always lived and breathed this project together. Regularly working up to 12 hours a day including some weekends. Luckily, we love working together.

How do you personally attract ideas?

I seek out beautiful objects that are pleasing to the eye. It could be a product, a car, even a plane. Take the Bugatti Model 100 aircraft. This is extremely beautiful and timeless. In styling, a short-cut is to make a product look graphical. This may be fresh, but the beauty tends to fade within 5 years. A more timeless look, which I learned at Mazda, is based on reflection-based surfacing. This creates a beautiful aircraft design that reflects the environment by moving in unison with the plane’s body. There are no hard or jagged surfaces.

Who came up with the name Midnight?

I believe our co-Founder and CEO, Adam (Goldstein). This is a great name as it conjures up the start of a new day, even a new era.

The aircraft design is breathtaking. It has a bold, brave and beautiful look that combines power with confidence. How did you achieve this?

Thank you. First, Maker was done with a different team. It was designed before I arrived. The goal for Midnight was to make a passionate product that is beautiful to look at. The design is organic where the aim was to bring emotion into an aircraft world that is 100 percent mathematical. I wanted to create a beautiful object. To achieve this we needed a big shift from mathematical to emotional. There is a gracefulness about Midnight assisted by a great proportion between the wing-span and the body. Proportion came first. 

To create this, we viewed many different eVTOLs. Few looked confident. Some didn’t even look they could fly well. At a subconscious level, when a passenger views a plane, confidence comes from the belief it will fly safely. 

Inspiration also comes from nature and so we studied the wing gesture of birds of prey gracefully flying around the sky. They portray a great confidence. We realised the ratio between their wingspan and body creates that confidence. We also realised that just before the bird dives towards it prey, there is a strong kinetic movement in the wings that stalls it. Midnight’s wing shape is bent around the booms to express the vertical movement. The design must clearly show the craft’s ability to take-off and land vertically alongside its cruising efficiency. So when people look at it, they know this is neither a plane nor a helicopter, but an eVTOL.

Integrating the aircraft to make it look “organically visual” must have been challenging.

One of the key goals is to simplify the look of a complex exterior architecture by visually integrating components such as fixed landing gear on to the body and the booms to the wing. You need to flow the surfacing which is not only pleasing to the eye, but where each area interconnects. We wanted to make Midnight look at one with itself.

How did the design initially develop?

There were so many ideas. For example, well over 1,000 different sketches on the whiteboards. We constructed at least five different potential interior cabins during the early stage. The process is daunting and exciting at the same time.

Breakthrough design ideas could potentially re-invent air travel. In the car industry each generation improves five to ten percent. For us there was no precedent, where we had to create an all new product and an all new ecosystem to showcase a high level of maturity.

What are the biggest changes from the Maker?

The human connection is, perhaps, the biggest. For example, the stepping height on to the aircraft is much lower on Midnight and similar to a midsize SUV, where passengers can carry a coffee and hold a case at the same time. On most eVTOLs it is way too high, where you have to first climb onboard into a small space and then need to crawl in. No, no, this is way too uncomfortable.

Please focus on the cabin.

Midnight is a commuting plane that is not only practical and comfortable, but also awakens the human spirit. We want our customer to fully embrace the flying experience. We designed the seat to wrap around your body, so you can feel the movement of the craft and become one with the plane. 

We wished to create privacy for the passenger by designing a partial divider between seats, as well as offering individuality. As you step onboard, we intend to project core flight information into this divider such as your assigned seat, your name, alongside the booked destination point and take-off time.

Then there are the large panoramic windows. This was a design priority, so at 2,000 ft the passenger can clearly engage with the city below.

You describe the seats as sustainable. What do you mean?

Materials used in the aerospace industry tend to be traditional. They are not eco-friendly. We need to evolve. So with sustainable electric flight, it is important to integrate materials that are also sustainable. We chose the material of flax fibre for the back of our seats. The plant is highly absorbent of CO2 and requires little irrigation.

Leather is the baseline for a premium look and feel in the automotive industry. For Archer, the mass property of leather within Midnight’s low weight allowance pushed us to rethink an alternative solution aligned with our brand ethos. We are studying a synthetic leather partially composed from recycled plastic bottles. It has a similar durability to leather and feels great to touch. We describe our cabin as “purposeful comfort”.

You talk of the use of noise-cancelling in the cabin to reduce the sound of the rotors. Please explain.

We are still studying this idea. There are many approaches to reducing sound. There is glass thickness, sound-proofing material, new technologies that will soon become available, where noise cancelling could be integrated into the seats. All of this is being looked at. I can see this occurring within five years or so.

You have spoken of bringing emotion into an aerospace world that is 100 percent mathematical. I note you are someone with a spiritual outlook. Are you referring to this?

It is how people react to the design. Until now aerospace is all parametric. In Japan where I lived for 8 years, I learned about the transference of energy. It became evident to me, a craftsperson can pass over human energy through their design. The more a creation comes from a person’s ability and talent rather than a machine, the more possible this is. We consciously put this practice into Midnight’s creation.

We have noted this emotional connection with those who have been up close to the Aircraft. They want to touch it, feel it and get close to it. This connection can be a powerful experience. 

Do you believe it’s possible for a passenger to become one with an aircraft? In WW2, Spitfire pilots talked of becoming one with their plane when flying it.

Yes. We want that connection to happen. Even if the flight is only for 10 minutes, we want passengers to be in the present and love the act of flying. To be fully connected and engaged with Midnight and not feel desensitised in a commodity transport. We want to recreate the 1950s and that golden era of flight, when people loved to fly.

What response have you gained from pilots?

When we did a recent photo-shoot of Midnight, we had a number of helicopter pilots, who walked past, enthusing, “I love this aircraft. I want to fly it. Where is the program? How can I become a pilot for Archer?” The craft connected with them emotionally. That’s what we want to give back to the pilots – an emotional connection. I would like to think that the power of design is to create pride around a product and the experience it delivers.

Please explain the vertical light on the Midnight nose which you describe as “your first brand DNA signature”.

This is what we learned from car design. The front face speaks about the brand. You can look at a car from far away and recognise it as a Porsche or BMW or Tesla. In aerospace this doesn’t exist. Almost each airplane’s nose design is a white cone-shape deprived of identity.

So for Midnight we searched for a unique character and focused on vertical execution bridging the tip of the nose down to the front gear as one wholistic shape. The vertical light is our visual signature that reinforces the vertical movement at take-off and landing. It is a “form follows function” example at its best.

When people take a first flight on Midnight, this may be their first time on an eVTOL. Will Archer create products to commemorate this experience? Even producing models of Midnight that can be bought in toy shops?

Absolutely. Models and commemorative pieces can remind passengers of their flight experience and inspire the younger generation to become eVTOL pilots in the future.

To conclude. The Midnight look you and your team have created. Will there be any further design tweaks or is this it before Archer’s commercial entry in 2025?

Midnight is our production aircraft. We are extremely pleased. The public response has been fantastic. I am so proud of the team. We aimed for something truly special and unique and we feel this has been achieved.

For more information

https://www.archer.com

(Images: Archer Aviation)