Air taxi startup Archer shows off small electric planes, but no flight test


Archer Aviation, a Santa Clara-based aviation startup, unveiled a new electric plane on Thursday that it says will serve as the base for a future fleet of air taxis that traverse cities and help ease traffic. But like most of these startups, the company was unable to demonstrate that its flying taxis did what they were supposed to do: fly.

At an event in Los Angeles Thursday, complete with dramatic lighting, floating visuals and even a few drummers, the company showed off the 12-rotor aircraft it calls Maker. Weighing in at 1,508 kg (3,324 lbs), the shiny silver vehicle looks like an airplane/helicopter hybrid, with two wings with six rotors each protruding from an egg-shaped fuselage.

Thanks to a 75 kWh battery, it has a range of 60 miles and a top speed of 240 km/h. The entire wingspan is 40 feet. And when it crosses 2,000 feet in the air, Archer says the plane will be “100x quieter than a helicopter and generate only 45 decibels of noise” — similar to a loud bird call.

Maker is a “full two-passenger demonstration aircraft,” said Adam Goldstein, one of Archer’s co-founders. “The goal is to serve as a test bench for certification and also to keep pushing our key enabling technologies.”

Archer, however, did not demonstrate Maker’s flying capabilities, nor did it say when it expected to receive test flight certification. The company has said it expects to eventually build a five-seat aircraft that will serve as the main vehicle in its eventual commercial operation, which it plans to launch in 2024.

The type of aircraft Archer develops is usually referred to as a “flying car,” although they rarely resemble real cars. They are electrically powered, can carry only a handful of passengers and are intended for short flights within a city or regional. Using tilt rotors, Maker is designed to take off and land vertically like a helicopter and then transition into forward flight like an airplane. There are dozens of similar startups building these types of electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOL), but they have yet to be rolled out for commercial service.

Archer recently made the news for raising $1.1 billion by going public through a reverse merger with a special acquisition company, or SPAC. The merger, valued at $3.8 billion, is also backed by Stellaantis, the parent company of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot, and United Airlines. United has placed an order of $1 billion placed for 200 Archer electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOL), with an option to purchase 100 more for $500 million.

It has also become the target of a lawsuit from rival aviation startup Wisk Aero, which accused Archer of stealing his trade secrets and infringing his patents. Wisk, a joint venture between Boeing and Kitty Hawk, recently filed a preliminary injunction to ban Archer from using his technology, and the US government opened an investigation into the matter. Archer sued Wisk for “false statements” related to the criminal investigation.

Asked about comment on Archer’s disclosure, a Wisk spokesperson said: “Nothing new was revealed at tonight’s launch. We look forward to continuing our case in court.”