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Beta Flies South for the Winter
  • 06 Nov 2023 01:39 PM
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Beta Flies South for the Winter

Beta Technologies’ Alia Arrives at Duke Field for Special Operations Testing

By Kenneth I. Swartz

[Featured image: AFWERX Director Col. Elliott Leigh congratulates Beta founder and CEO Kyle Clark, in front of Alia on Oct. 26, 2023. USAF photo by Jennifer Bryant.]

The prototype Beta Technologies Alia (N250UT) aircraft arrived at Elgin Air Force Base's Duke Field (KEGI) in the Florida Panhandle on Oct. 26 at 12:22 PM CDT (UTC-5) after a 16-day journey that began when the electric conventional takeoff and landing aircraft (eCTOL) departed the Beta headquarters at Patrick Leahy Burlington International Airport (KBTV) in South Burlington, Vermont, on Oct. 10 (see "Beta Goes the Distance," Vertiflite, Nov/Dec 2023). 

The 1,700-nm (3,200-km) journey covered 16.5 hours of total flight time, including rest stops, charging stops and media events at 21 airports — including a hop from Plattsburgh International Airport (KPBG) to KBTV on the morning of Oct. 10 — as the aircraft traversed 12 states. Alia will remain at Duke Field into the winter for flight testing by both the US Air Force (USAF) and Beta test pilots.

Alia was flown to Florida single-piloted, rotating between five pilots, including:

  • Chris Caputo, a former US Air Force (USAF) A-10 Warthog pilot, Delta Air Lines commercial pilot, and certified flight instructor (CFI)
  • Nate Moyer, a professional test pilot and former USAF pilot (F-16 fighters, C-17 transports, etc.)
  • Josh Myslik, a commercial pilot and graduate of the National Test Pilot School
  • Cody Olsen, a commercial pilot
  • and Kyle Clark, Beta’s Founder and CEO, a multi-rated commercial pilot and CFI.

Notable accomplishments were flying into the Class B airspace of Boston and New York City, as well as being the first all-electric aircraft cleared to fly into the highly restricted Washington, DC, Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ), with its arrival onto Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper (www.gcmap.com). © Karl L. Swartz.
Flight legs to Duke Field (via FlightAware.com)

USAF Testing

The aircraft is expected to remain at Duke Field for several months as Beta works with the USAF 413th Flight Test Squadron to conduct hands-on experimentation and training with the technology; flight testing commenced at Duke Field on Nov. 2. Duke Field is part of the Eglin Air Force Base complex in northwest Florida. The USAF's rotary-wing test unit, the 413th Flight Test Squadron, is part of the 96th Test Wing and is based at nearby Hurlburt Field.

Flight testing Alia is part of Beta's contract, first initiated in December 2019, with the AFWERX Agility Prime program, supporting the development and flight testing of Beta's eCTOL and electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. The contract has provided Air Force personnel with an opportunity to understand the operational and performance capabilities of this new aircraft and its potential to meet various USAF passenger/cargo transport, logistics and special operations requirements.

On the way to Florida, the Alia roadshow also included stops at Joint Base Andrews, near Washington, DC, on Oct. 18, so the aircraft could be viewed by invited guests from the Pentagon, Congress and other government agencies.

On Oct. 25, the aircraft made a stop at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, before flying on to Dothan, Alabama. Beta posted videos and other media on its YouTube and Instagram channels of many of the stops along the way.

Clark made the final leg of the flight with Emma Davis, a Beta flight test engineer, and swapped patches with USAF Col. Elliott Leigh, the AFWERX Commander, upon arrival. Col. Leigh became director of AFWERX, a directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Department of the Air Force’s innovation arm, during a change of leadership ceremony Dec. 15, 2022. 

The day before the Beta Alia arrived in Florida, AFWERX and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) met at Duke Field to sign an agreement to support the safe integration of AAM aircraft into the National Airspace System (NAS). The agencies will exchange data and share capabilities and expertise for testing these emerging technologies. “A new era of aviation is taking off and safe and efficient operations require collaboration,” said FAA Technology Development Director John Maffei. “This data will help inform FAA certification efforts, policies, standards, and future airspace integration requirements.” 

“With this MOU [memorandum of understanding] and the ongoing AAM Interagency Working Group, we are accelerating a breakthrough in electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft,” said Leigh. “We are driving progress in propulsion technology, in manufacturing and materials, and in test and safety for a novel class of air vehicles.”

During the past three years, AFWERX has awarded more than $345M in contracts to 36 developers of electric aircraft and related technologies including Beta as part of the national AAM strategy. With the USAF investments, certifications, limited partnership agreements and testing, this effort has generated more than $11B in commercial investment in the AAM sector, said an AFRL press release.

FAA officials added the partnership with AFWERX and the MOU supports the FAA's Innovate28 initial entry into service objectives and future phases as defined in the FAA Urban Air Mobility Concept of Operations.

Airport Electrification

The flight to Florida also provided an opportunity for Beta to highlight its airport electrification initiatives.

At Massachusetts’ Marshfield Municipal Airport (KGHG), southeast of Boston, the Alia CTOL inaugurated the state’s first-ever public access electric aircraft and vehicle charging station on Oct. 13. Fixed base operator (FBO) Shoreline Aviation partnered with Beta to install the charging station working with its strategic partners Eversource — the local electric company — and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Division (MassDOT Aeronautics).

The installation at Marshfield includes two Level 3 fast-chargers, one airside primarily for use by aircraft and one groundside in the parking lot. There is also a Level 2 charger for use by public ground vehicles.

MassDOT Aeronautics, which oversees 35 of the Massachusetts’ public-use airports, recently received a $2M Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) grant from the US Department of Transportation to plan a smart microgrid that generates and distributes clean, reliable power at Cape Cod Gateway Airport (KHYA) in Hyannis, Massachusetts, to facilitate charging of electric ground vehicles and aircraft.

During the following week, Beta also inaugurated the first electric aircraft charging site in North Carolina, when the eVTOL aircraft stopped at Raleigh Executive Jetport (KTTA) in Sanford-Lee County on Oct. 20, in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Transportation and AFWERX.

Last March, Beta installed an electric aircraft charging station at Augusta Regional Airport in partnership with Georgia Power and the Georgia Department of Transportation (G-DOT). This was the first electric aircraft charging station in Georgia, and possibly the Southeastern US, but it didn’t charge a full-size aircraft until the Beta Alia visited for the first time on Oct. 24.

“We recognize the importance of the future and some of these technologies right now that are emerging but undoubtedly are going to be part of the system in the future,” said airport Executive Director Herbert Judon to a reporter from The Augusta Chronicle. “We're proud to be kind of in the forefront of it." 

In Massachusetts, North Carolina and Georgia, the airport celebrations were attended by Beta executives as well as state and federal politicians, representatives from the FAA, and state transportation agencies and airport executives.


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