First Electric Flight Test at Amazon Air

Beta Technologies has conducted the first flight test of an electric aircraft at Amazon facilities.

Beta Technologies Alia electric aircraft in flight.

Beta Technologies prototype electric aircraft flew Thursday from KCVG to KILN. [Courtesy: Beta Technologies]

Beta Technologies has conducted the first flight test of an electric aircraft at facilities of online retail giant Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) . 

Beta’s Alia electric prototype demonstrator departed from Amazon Air’s “superhub” at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (KCVG) on Thursday and flew approximately 60 nautical miles to the company’s sorting hub at Wilmington Air Park (KILN) outside Dayton, Ohio.

"Beta Technologies continues to take steps forward in electrifying the aviation industry and reducing its impact on our environment, and we are thrilled to have them conduct their test flight between two Amazon Air hubs," said Sarah Rhoads, vice president of Amazon Global Air in a news release. "The Alia test flight helped us continue to learn as we stay committed to our long-term goal of transforming our transportation network into a zero-emissions fleet."

"Over the past year, we've significantly expanded our flight test program to include market survey flights with customers, conducting several successful real-life missions," said Kyle Clark, Beta’s founder and CEO. "Flights like these are not just an exciting and informative step forward for our program, but they also prove the viability of electric aviation and show that this technology is capable of operating with the variables of cross-country flying and in the National Airspace System. The confidence and investment from partners like Amazon have been instrumental in getting us to this point, and we're grateful for their continued support."

Coinciding with the flight, Amazon also announced the investment in Beta Technologies of an undisclosed amount, as part of Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, to support the Vermont-based company’s development of electric aircraft. The new infusion of capital comes a year after Amazon’s initial investment in Beta through the fund.

Electric Cargo Air Transport

The flight test serves as a reminder that Beta is developing its first Alia variant to transport cargo. In fact, it already has a launch customer, United Therapeutics, which plans to use the aircraft to transport organs for human transplantation.

Last year, UPS Flight Forward (NYSE: UPS) announced preliminary orders for ten Alia production aircraft, with an option for 150 more. Blade Urban Air Mobility (NASDAQ: BLDE) has also reserved up to 20 orders for an Alia passenger variant to support Blade’s plans to transition to a more environmentally friendly fleet. 

About the Aircraft

Alia’s unique design includes an arched, 50-foot wing mounted high on a carbon-fiber fuselage, and battery-powered motors driving a single push propeller. The aircraft is expected to achieve a complete battery recharge after a full mission in less than an hour. Beta says it’s on track to receive FAA type certification by 2024. Some early specifications include:

Cruise speed:About 150 knots
Maximum takeoff weight (MTOW):6,999 pounds
Payload capacity:1,400 pounds
 Range:250 nm

In addition to developing and manufacturing electric aircraft, Beta’s business model includes establishing a nationwide network of charging stations for all types of electric vehicles, including cars and trucks.

Thom is a former senior editor for FLYING. Previously, his freelance reporting appeared in aviation industry magazines. Thom also spent three decades as a TV and digital journalist at CNN’s bureaus in Washington and Atlanta, eventually specializing in aviation. He has reported from air shows in Oshkosh, Farnborough and Paris. Follow Thom on Twitter @thompatterson.

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