The U.S. Air Force has announced that it has the first ALIA electric conventional takeoff and landing aircraft by BETA Technologies.
The Air Force Research Laboratory, AFWERX, said this groundbreaking delivery, which took place at Duke Field on Eglin Air Force Base on October 26, 2023, marks a significant milestone in the Air Force’s pursuit of eco-friendly, low-noise aviation solutions.
AFWERX, the Air Force’s innovation arm, has been at the forefront of fostering cutting-edge ingenuity, particularly from small businesses and startups, to tackle the Air Force’s most pressing challenges. Collaborations with companies like BETA are a testament to the Air Force’s commitment to embrace zero-emission aviation, offering benefits that extend beyond reducing emissions. The ALIA electric aircraft is poised to revolutionize air travel with its remarkably quiet noise profile and substantial cost savings by eliminating the dependency on traditional fossil fuels.
Colonel Elliott Leigh, AFWERX Director and Chief Commercialization Officer for the Department of the Air Force, expressed the organization’s enthusiasm for pioneering companies like BETA, stating, “It is going to transform the way we see air travel in the world, but it is also going to transform the way we have air power in the Air Force. We’re going to learn what we can do with vehicles like this, and we’re going to take it to our warfighters.”
The ALIA electric aircraft is an engineering marvel with a 50-foot wingspan, a range of 250 miles, a top speed of 138 mph, and, notably, it’s 90% quieter than a helicopter. While it has the capacity to transport five passengers, the primary objective of Air Force testing is to demonstrate its potential to support agile combat employment logistics, thanks to its impressive payload capacity of 1,000 pounds.
Duke Field, situated 10 miles north of Eglin Air Force Base, was strategically chosen as the testing site for ALIA. It is home to the Air Force’s rotary wing test squadron, the 413th Flight Test Squadron, responsible for overseeing the testing operations.
Major Riley Livermore, Flight Commander of the 413th Flight Test Squadron, explained, “All of the testing will be contractor-owned and operated, but the 413th FLTS wrote the test and safety plan. We are responsible for coordinating daily flight operations, including range scheduling and logistics support. Then we’ll write a report following the conclusion of the test deployment to report our findings.”
AFWERX initially partnered with BETA in December 2019 and has since awarded the company several contracts. Throughout this collaboration, BETA provided AFWERX with three simulators, including a mobile simulator that conducted pilot training and demonstrations, along with two Level-3 electric chargers. The charging station at Duke Field, completed on October 16, is the first of its kind on a military installation.
Major Livermore emphasized the importance of this milestone, stating, “Part of the testing process was to install an aircraft charger on a military installation to capture lessons learned and hopefully inform and accelerate future projects at different bases. The fixed charging station will also help us write procedures and safety requirements for the Air Force. They’re currently not defined because the technology is new.”
The first ALIA flight test is tentatively scheduled for November 7, 2023, heralding a new era of eco-friendly and quieter air mobility for the U.S. Air Force.