An aerospace startup founded by a hockey player who turned out to be a Harvard-educated engineer hopes to have its electric airplane certified for flight by 2024 — and Amazon, UPS and the US military are already buying hundreds of vehicles. ready, which can takeoff and land vertically.
challenge: The ships, planes, trains and trucks we use to transport billions of tons of cargo each year currently produce 8% of our global greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, the freight industry’s emissions could double as we rely more on online shopping and home delivery.
Road vehicles are by far the biggest culprit, producing about two-thirds of the freight industry’s emissions. While the transition to electric vehicles may help reduce its environmental impact, heavy road freight will still contribute to congestion and damage infrastructure.
Cargo vehicles produce 8% of our global greenhouse gas emissions.
Startup: Kyle Clarke wants to get some cargo off the road and put it in the sky.
After short stints in the NHL and Finland’s professional hockey league, the Vermont native went to Harvard in 2004 to earn a degree in materials science before starting his career in engineering.
In 2017, he met Martin Rothblatt, founder of Sirius XM and United Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company developing genetically modified animal organs for human transplantation.
Rothblatt had developed an interest in electric planes a few years earlier – she wanted a green way to quickly transport organs between cities – and that’s when Clarke told her that she was looking for demo flights within a year or two. He was concerned if the vehicle would be able to prepare. ,
A few weeks later, Rothblatt gave Clark $1.5 million to launch his own startup, Beta Technologies.
electric airplane, Beta’s first electric airplane prototype was actually ready within eight months, but it was soon replaced by a more streamlined prototype, modeled after a small bird called the Arctic Tern.
That prototype is now known as the ALIA 250. It can carry 1,400 pounds of cargo and has a range of 250 miles when traveling at 170 mph – which means it can get a shipment from New York to DC in less than 1.5 hours.
The electric airplane takes off and lands vertically, so it’s not bound to airports or conventional runways—it must have somewhere relatively flat to land and charge its batteries, a process called beta. That it takes about 50 minutes.
The beta aims to build a network of 480 solar-powered charging stations across the US, and 55 of them have already been built.
“We put them all over Pennsylvania, throughout Ohio, through Missouri and all the way down to Arkansas,” Clark told Vermont Biz in December 2021.
looking ahead: While 1,400 pounds may sound like a lot of cargo, the nine-foot-long U-Haul van can carry 4,000 pounds, so the beta’s delivery will be for packages with higher priority.
The company still faces the daunting task of getting past regulators of its vehicle—the FAA has never certified an electric-powered aircraft for commercial use—but it believes ALIA will be cleared for takeoff in 2024.
Beta will then be able to begin filling orders for the vehicle, which is expected to cost between $4 million and $5 million. United Therapeutics is buying 60, and UPS is buying 10 so far, with 140 more options.
The ALIA 250 can carry 1,400 pounds of cargo and has a range of 250 miles when traveling at 170 mph.
In May 2021, the ALIA became the first crewed electric vehicle to receive airworthiness approval from the Air Force, and between that branch and the military, there are another $43 million in military contracts to fill beta.
Amazon has also invested an undisclosed amount in the beta, so don’t be surprised if some future Prime purchases are taking place in the company’s electric airplanes flying across the skies. However, whether that happens in 2024 will depend on the FAA.
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