Who Won, Archer Aviation or Wisk Aero?

Get an update on Archer, Wisk, Skydio and more in this week's Future of FLYING newsletter.

Hello, and welcome to the Future of FLYING newsletter, our weekly look at the biggest stories in emerging aviation technology. From low-altitude drones to high-flying rockets at the edge of the atmosphere, we’ll take you on a tour of the modern flying world to help you make sense of it all.

—Jack Daleo, Modern FLYING staff writer

Now for this week’s top story:

Archer and Wisk: Bitter Rivals Turn Allies in New Agreement

(Courtesy: Archer Aviation)

What happened? A bitter, prolonged legal battle between rival electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft manufacturers Archer Aviation and Boeing’s Wisk Aero ended in just about the most surprising way imaginable. Not only did the two settle—they entered a partnership that will make Wisk the exclusive provider of autonomy technology for Archer.

Keep your friends close…: Separately, Archer announced it received a $215 million raise led by longtime investors Stellantis and United Airlines, bringing its valuation to an eye-popping $1.1 billion. Like other eVTOL firms, Archer does not yet produce revenue, so the funding from its closest allies will help carry it to entry into service.

Speaking of entry into service, the company took a step closer to that milestone as well, announcing the FAA has green-lit a production prototype of its Midnight eVTOL for flight testing. That’s expected to begin later this year.

…but your enemies closer: Of course, though, the biggest news from Archer was its settlement with Wisk, ending a two-year dispute over (allegedly) stolen trade secrets. Had a settlement not been reached, the case would have gone to trial next month.

But not only did Archer turn its foe into a partner, it will also receive funding from Boeing, part of that $215 million raise, to integrate autonomous systems into a future variant of Midnight. In one fell swoop, the company got a monkey off its back and set itself up for future success.

Quick quote: “This collaboration puts Archer in a unique position—to be able to source autonomy technology from a leader in the industry. Over the long term, autonomy is seen as one of the keys to achieving scale across all AAM applications, from passenger to cargo and beyond,” Archer said in a press release.

My take: All of this sounds like great news for Archer. But, as one commentator noted, the Archer-Wisk collaboration may have lopsided benefits for Wisk and Boeing.

Boeing invested a (presumably and comparably) small amount of capital in its rival for the rights to sell Wisk’s autonomous tech to Archer in the future. So, essentially, the investment should pay for itself down the line. In the short term, Boeing will immediately receive $25 million in Archer shares, an amount which could rise to as high as $48 million in a few years.

Still, at the end of the day, settling now keeps Archer’s certification activities on track. And with the investment from Stellantis and United Airlines and the FAA approval to begin flying, the company is in as good a short-term position as it has ever been.

Deep dive: Archer Aviation Earns Fresh Funding from Bitter Rival-Turned-Ally

In Other News…

Skydio Shutters Consumer Drone Business

(Courtesy: Skydio)

What happened? Skydio, one of the world’s largest consumer drone manufacturers, is no longer selling consumer drones. Why? It would instead prefer to focus on its enterprise and public sector customers, which are thought to drive more revenue because they purchase subscriptions rather than off-the-shelf drones.

Bigger opportunities: Skydio’s 2 Plus series was four years in the making, but customers will no longer be able to purchase 2 Plus Starter, Sports, Cinema, or Pro kits. However, Skydio will continue to provide most services, like customer support, and offer replacement parts such as batteries. 2 Plus Enterprise kits will still be available to businesses.

Now, Skydio will primarily serve infrastructure, defense and public safety customers, and federal and state agencies with its X2 series, released in 2020. It currently has over 1,500 enterprise customers. With Skydio’s exit, the consumer market will be left primarily to DJI, which boasts a global market share somewhere between 50 and 70 percent.

Deep Dive: Skydio Just Shuttered its Consumer Drone Business

Alphabet’s Wing to Begin Medical Drone Delivery in Ireland

(Courtesy: Wing)

What happened? Wing, the drone delivery arm of Google parent Alphabet, announced it will soon launch its first medical delivery network in Ireland’s South Dublin county. The service will fly pharmacy items, lab samples, and medical devices and supplies between healthcare providers in partnership with medical logistics firm Apian.

Drone delivery dominance: Wing is already one of the world’s preeminent drone delivery firms, having completed more than 300,000 deliveries. Adding healthcare cargo to its deliveries of hot meals, convenience and grocery items, and e-commerce could extend its dominance even further, though it’ll have to compete with Zipline and its 600,000 medical deliveries.

Wing’s healthcare delivery service won’t launch until later this year. But the company has built its entire business around delivering to urban regions, a market Zipline has hardly touched. That could be the differentiator that allows medical deliveries to be a viable addition to the business.

Deep Dive: Alphabet’s Wing to Begin Medical Drone Deliveries in Ireland

And a Few More Headlines:

  • A prototype eVTOL from Vertical Aerospace crashed during an uncrewed test flight, damaging the aircraft and sparking an investigation.
  • Embraer eVTOL subsidiary Eve Air Mobility partnered with DHL Supply Chain to develop a logistics system for eVTOL support.
  • A2Z Drone Delivery released its next-generation RDST Longtail, which in premium configuration can fly in rain.
  • World Drone Racing Championships announced the inaugural “e-Drone” Racing Cup, its first virtual event.
  • A collective of eVTOL industry stakeholders united against the FAA’s powered-lift pilot proposal…more on that below.

Spotlight on…

Schubeler Technologies

[Courtesy: Schubeler Technologies]

Besides being fun to say, Schubeler is a name known to many in the turbomachinery industry. The company for decades has produced electric ducted fans for industrial customers. But this week, the German firm released an electric ducted fan built specifically for large eVTOL aircraft. 

The design, called eP05-21, is bulkier and heavier than the company’s other offerings, producing around 680 newtons of status thrust with a sub-60-volt architecture. It can operate at flight speeds between 0 and 148 feet per second. And crucially, the model is expected to produce just 60 dBA of noise at a distance of close to 400 feet during a flyby—-that’s about the volume of an average conversation.

Schubeler won’t be well -known to eVTOL enthusiasts yet, but the company has certainly gained the attention of manufacturers. Already, Lilium and Volocopter, also based in Germany, are listed as customers, as are Boeing, Airbus, General Atomics, Bellwether, and Tupan.

Deep Dive: AAM Industry Gets a New (Electric Ducted) Fan

On the Horizon…

Oh boy, did the FAA poke the bear. The agency last month proposed rules for training and certifying powered-lift (its term for eVTOL) pilots. But industry stakeholders aren’t happy.

A group of them, led by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), penned a strongly worded letter to the FAA recommending several major changes to the proposal. Among these are a greater emphasis on training-based instruction (rather than time-based), expanded use of flight simulators, the removal of a rule that would require training in dual-control aircraft, and a realignment of powered-lift operating rules.

Basically, the industry thinks the FAA is making it too difficult for pilots (and manufacturers) to obtain the necessary powered-lift certifications. And their comments will hold weight—GAMA has plenty of sway on Capitol Hill, and chances are many of its suggestions will make it into the final rule.

Mark Your Calendars

Each week, I’ll be running through a list of upcoming industry events. Here are a few conferences to keep an eye on:

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