Archer Aviation is back on the radar with the reveal of the Maker, its first urban air mobility vehicle, at a virtual event in Los Angeles. We've already seen glimpses and renders of the Maker over the last year, but today's announcement comes with more details and the first photos of the craft. Maker is Archer's prototype for testing and certification and the first step towards a slightly larger production craft which should follow soon after.
The Maker is an eVTOL aircraft, meaning it's capable of electric vertical take-off and landing. Vertical take-off like a helicopter means that it doesn't need a runway and can be launched from space-efficient helipads. Once in the air, the Maker transitions to fixed-wing flight like an airplane, which is both quieter and more energy efficient for cruising at up to 150 mph.
Along the craft's 40-foot wingspan, you'll find a total of 12 rotors -- six large, five-bladed props that handle the bulk of propulsion and six smaller, two-blade rotors that appear to only be used during hovering and the transitional phase to cruising. By using full-electric motors and multiple small props with lower "tip speed" than a single, large rotor, Archer claims that the Maker is 100 times quieter than a conventional heli, humming along at around 45 dB when cruising at around 2,000 feet.
The two-passenger Maker should be fairly lightweight. Tipping the scales at around 3,300 pounds, it is about 700 pounds less than a 2020 Tesla Model 3, which has the same size battery, but also still about 1,000 pounds more than a conventional light aircraft of the same size.
A Cessna 172 can't land on a helipad in the middle of a city, though, which is why the Maker will see use. As an urban air mobility vehicle with just 60 miles of cruising range, Archer envisions the Maker serving as an air taxi that shuttles VIPs from, say, San Francisco Airport to San Jose in just 17 minutes, bypassing up to two hours of traffic on the ground during rush hour. A trip from Manhattan to JFK will only take 7 minutes.
The Maker is powered by six independent battery packs with a capacity totaling 75 kWh. Archer claims that its distributed electric propulsion system adds safety to the eVTOL through redundancy, claiming that the Maker can suffer one complete battery failure or two rotor failures and still land safely. According to Archer, the Maker also only uses about 30% of its battery capacity per trip and is designed to rapidly recharge between missions in just 10 minutes. Operating at peak efficiency, the aeronautics company estimates that each Maker example will complete up to 40 flights per day.
A Cessna also can't pilot itself, another ability the "fully autonomous" Maker claims. The eVTOL's only controls are a 13-inch touchscreen display that passengers will presumably use to do little more than confirm their destination and monitor their trip in progress. This eliminates the need for a pilot, but the final craft will have a human pilot and space for four passengers that goes into final production.
The stated battery capacity is less than half of the 187 kWh specified in the eVTOL craft Archer announced it was developing in partnership with Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) at CES earlier this year. Either Archer has figured out a better balance between craft weight, power output and energy density or the production vehicle that will follow will use the bigger pack. I'm betting on the latter considering the increased passenger capacity; expect to learn more as Archer progresses towards production.
Archer expects to complete the first Maker test flights in Q4 of this year, with manufacturing of the larger production craft expected to kick off sometime in 2022. Among the first customers is United Airlines which announced plans to buy $1 billion worth of the upcoming eVTOLs as a way to diminish its carbon footprint. If all goes well, expect the first commercial flights to launch from Los Angeles and Miami sometime in 2024.