After Beta Technologies received an order for the delivery of ten vertical take-off and landing electric air vehicles by the UPS subsidiary UPS Flight Forward at the beginning of April, the US manufacturer now reports the closing of a financing round for 368 million US dollars.
According to Beta Technologies, this was a Series A round, the first financing round of its kind. It was led by Fidelity Management & Research Company and the Amazon Climate Pledge Fund. Other new and existing investors also participated. Beta plans to use the €300 million in capital to accelerate the rollout of its Alia electric vertical take-off aircraft, continue the development of its electric propulsion systems and controls, and build production facilities.
In parallel, the company is moving forward with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification of its electric aircraft. The VTOL model is said to be capable of carrying up to six people or up to 1,500 pounds of cargo (about 680 kilograms), as well as a range of 250 miles (400 kilometres) and a cruising speed of up to 170 miles (274 km/h). It takes off with the help of four rotors and gets its propulsion from a pressurised propeller in the rear. Beta does not give any details about the electric propulsion and battery itself. According to Beta, it made a test flight in March over a distance of 40 kilometres between Plattsburgh in the US state of New York and Burlington in the US state of Vermont. The current altitude record is 8,000 feet, the equivalent of a good 2,400 metres.
There is already a potential major customer, as UPS Flight Forward announced its intention in early April to purchase ten units of the electric VTOL starting in 2024, with an option to buy 150 more. The vertical take-off aircraft will initially fly manned for UPS, but at a later date, the logistics company wants to operate them remotely or fully autonomously.
The UPS Flight Forward division has been in existence since 2019 and is dedicated to the integration of drones into logistics processes. Thanks to a so-called Part 135 approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), it is already allowed to use drones for parcel delivery in the USA. This primarily benefits “healthcare providers, thousands of small and medium-sized businesses and other companies in smaller communities,” UPS says. With a range of the equivalent of 400 km, Beta’s drones can be used for a range of short routes or a long route, according to the company.
To operate the VTOLs (“Vertical Take-Off and Landing”), UPS Flight Forward envisages setting up ports on its own premises. These should not only reload the aircraft in less than an hour and facilitate the loading and unloading of freight, but also serve as a charging infrastructure for the parcel delivery company’s delivery vehicles.
In addition to UPS, Beta names United Therapeutics and Blade Urban Air Mobility as well as the United States Air Force as other customers. While projects are underway with United Therapeutics and the Air Force, Blade Urban Air Mobility placed a firm order in April for five Alia aircraft, which, as in the case of UPS, are to be delivered from 2024. The contract also includes an option for up to 20 more. Blade is the first customer to use the vertical take-off aircraft for passenger transport, Beta says. “Blade will use these aircraft for a variety of mission profiles, from five-minute airport transfers to longer commuter routes.”
In other progress, Beta reports receiving airworthiness approval for Alia from the U.S. Air Force in April for a manned eVTOL flight. The manufacturer also announces its intention to expand its site in Vermont. New offices, research and development and manufacturing space will be built at Burlington International Airport (BTV).
With reporting by Cora Werwitzke, France.