New electric aircraft arrives for testing

  • Published
  • By Matthew Clouse
  • Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – AFWERX Airmen and several local media outlets gathered here to witness one of the quietest Air Force aircraft flyovers ever. BETA Technologies, an electric aerospace company and AFWERX Prime division partner, made several low passes in its ALIA electric aircraft as the audience celebrated its delivery to the Air Force Oct. 26, 2023.  

AFWERX, the innovation arm of the Air Force and a directorate within the Air Force Research Laboratory located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, brings cutting-edge American ingenuity from small businesses and start-ups to address the most pressing challenges of the Air Force.

This includes partnering with BETA and other electric aircraft companies to bring zero-emission aviation to the military along with other benefits, including a quiet noise profile and the cost savings to operate and maintain its fleet without dependency on traditional fossil fuels. 

“We are really excited about companies like BETA when they invent things like this,” said Col. Elliott Leigh, AFWERX director and chief commercialization officer for the Department of the Air Force. "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.”

BETA’s ALIA electric aircraft has a 50-foot wingspan, a range of 250 miles with a top speed of 138 mph and is 90% quieter than a helicopter. While ALIA has the capability to transport five passengers, the Air Force test objective is to demonstrate its potential to support agile combat employment logistics with its payload capacity of 1,000 pounds. Located 10 miles north of Eglin, Duke Field was strategically selected as the test field for ALIA. The field is home to the Air Force’s rotary wing test squadron, the 413th Flight Test Squadron.  

“All of the testing will be contractor owned and operated but the 413th FLTS wrote the test and safety plan,” said Maj. Riley Livermore, 413th FLTS Futures Flight commander. “We are responsible for coordinating daily flight operations to include range scheduling and logistics support. Then we’ll write a report following the conclusion of the test deployment to report our findings.” 

AFWERX first partnered with BETA in December 2019 and has since awarded the company several contracts. Over the years, BETA has provided AFWERX with three simulators, including a mobile simulator that has conducted pilot training and demonstrations and two Level-3 electric chargers. The charger at Duke Field was completed Oct. 16 and is the first charging station on a military installation.

“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,” Livermore said. “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 Nov. 7, 2023.