U.S. Air Force Pilot Hank Griffiths flies BETA’s simulator in preparation for the test flight mission. (Photo: BETA Technologies/Brian Jenkins)

On March 9 two U.S. Air Force pilots became the first Airmen to fly an electric aircraft with military airworthiness approval—the ALIA, an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, developed by BETA Technologies. BETA has partnered with the Air Force’s Agility Prime program since 2020 to develop and refine their eVTOL, and the company hosted this milestone flight at their hangar and testing facility in Plattsburgh, N.Y.

In May 2021, BETA made headlines as the first company to receive airworthiness approval from the USAF for manned flight of an electric aircraft. This approval expanded their partnership to include access for the USAF to two of BETA’s immersive eVTOL simulators and its training facilities. A representative from BETA told sister publication Avionics International, recently that their work with the USAF and participation in the Agility Prime program is aimed at defining range, altitude capabilities, endurance, and payload limits for the ALIA aircraft as well as to improve the ALIA’s commercial viability. One goal for the BETA team in 2022, the representative said, is to perform testing of specialized cargo and logistics missions in coordination with the USAF. 

Maj. Jonathan Appleby and BETA test pilot Camron Guthrie perform a flight test in the ALIA aircraft at BETA’s hangar and testing facility. (Photo: BETA Technologies/Brian Jenkins)

The fully-electric eVTOL aircraft was intended for cargo transportation, but it can seat up to five passengers in addition to a pilot. BETA’s team is working toward a top speed of 150 knots and a range of 250 nautical miles. Hank Griffiths, one of the two USAF pilots that flew the ALIA last week—and AFWERX’s Chief of Engineering and Airworthiness and Test Lead—stated in the announcement that the aircraft “includes an air vehicle and charging network that will surely compete well in this emerging competitive market.” Griffiths also commented that the company has truly embraced all aspects of aviation. “Every [BETA] employee is encouraged to take flight training. It has been a pleasure to work and fly with such a motivated and innovative group of people.”

Maj. Jonathan Appleby, the other USAF pilot that conducted the first Airman flight of BETA’s aircraft for the Air Force, remarked, “I am excited to watch BETA continue to develop their revolutionary aircraft for civil and military use cases and grateful for the opportunity to experience electric flight.” BETA’s founder and CEO, Kyle Clark, also commented on the achievements of pilots Maj. Appleby and Hank Griffiths and the continuing progress of the partnership with Agility Prime. “We’re humbled by the Air Force’s continued support and confidence in our engineering,” Clark said. “This flight signifies an important milestone, providing the opportunity for a clean future for our nation’s military and a path to fossil fuel independence.”