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The Future of Flight


By Mary Carpenter • Photos supplied

If you haven’t heard about the work BETA Technologies is doing in the Champlain Valley, you will soon. The Vermont-based aerospace manufacturer specializes in the design and development of electric aircraft including advanced flight control and electric propulsion systems, with a focus on clean aviation technology. Currently under construction at its plant at the South Burlington Airport is its ALIA CTOL model, an electric, conventional take-off and landing aircraft for the cargo, medical passenger and military aviation industries which is expected to enter into service in 2025. Close behind the original model, will be the company’s ALIA VTOL vertical take-off and landing vehicle that will combine the features of a helicopter and a fixed wing airplane that is expected to enter into service by 2026. The company is also developing a network of chargers across the country which will supply power for their aircraft and other electric vehicles.

The BETA story began with an idea Vermont native Kyle Clark had during his freshman year in college. His vision was a hybrid-electric aircraft powered by a high-density motorcycle engine that would drive the propeller with a high wing and a fly-by-wire system. Three years later he graduated from Harvard’s School of Applied Mathematics and Engineering where he was awarded the 2004 Engineering Thesis of the Year award for his work in flight dynamics and control algorithms.

After playing professional hockey for a time, Clark returned to his home state to focus on bringing his ideas to market. Once fleshed out, the concepts presented in his thesis became the basis for the aircraft now being developed by BETA.

All-Electric Aircrafts

Fast forward to today when Clark is BETA Space Tech’s CEO and his ideas are a reality. An R&D headquarters in South Burlington employs approximately 400, a state-of-the-art facility in St. Albans produces batteries and tests motors. A hub in Montreal, which focuses on structural engineering and materials processing employs nearly 80. The company recently opened a nearly 200,000 square foot BETA production facility in South Burlington which will grow new jobs in the region.

Now the BETA story shifts to the New York side of the lake with the inauguration of the world’s largest flight test facility located on the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base. To learn about what is happening here in the North Country I met with BETA’s Chief Operating Officer, Blain Newton, recently. A New York State native, Newton earned degrees in Accounting and Business Management from SUNY Geneseo. “I grew up around aviation,” he explained, “and that love has shaped my life.”

“Plattsburgh is central to our plan for the future,” he continued. “There is nowhere else we could find that much runway tarmac in such great condition.”

BETA has signed leases for three buildings on the former Base and has a right of refusal on 100 acres adjacent to the flight line. “Our proximity to Plattsburgh’s amazing infrastructure will allow us to invite our customers to watch the tests of their aircrafts and then pick them up when they are ready to go,” Newton declared. Currently the local plant employs half a dozen workers full time; approximately 30 - 40 BETA staff circulate through the facility on a weekly basis to support the testing program. Plans for growth are in the works.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu recently toured the Plattsburgh facility to view the work that is being done to produce BETA’s zero operational emission aircrafts.

Planning for a Bright Future

“Right now, we are continuing to build and will need more employees as we grow,” Newton offered. It was reported that BETA had raised more than $800 million as of the end 2022, an amount said to be the highest ever for a Vermont-based company.

While the number of companies competing for market share in electric aircraft production may be daunting, it is encouraging to note that BETA currently holds the number two position based on sales. Production is focused on options for cargo transport. Its first contract was with United Therapeutics, a company looking for an efficient, rapid way to ship organs destined for human transplant.

In April of 2021 UPS entered a contract for BETA to supply ten ALIA VTOL aircraft to be delivered in 2024 with an option to acquire 150 more. The company’s plan is to use the electric powered vehicles to move packages on its smaller routes, rather than send everything to its hubs and then distribute orders from there. Additional contracts with the U.S. Army, Lease Corporation International, based in Dublin, Ireland and Bristow Helicopters, a leader in offshore energy transportation, are keeping BETA busy.

 Passing the Test

Test flights continue as BETA moves ahead. A flight from Plattsburgh to Montreal earlier this year was the first time an electric aircraft flew into the Canadian city. A recent 16-day, 1700 nautical mile flight down the East Coast, with stops in 12 states along the way to recharge, allowed a BETA crew to take the ALIA model to a U.S. Air Force test site in Florida for evaluation.

The future is bright for small electric aircrafts that will open more direct, faster routes connecting under served airports and expanding regional mobility. In addition, the machines are quiet and offer significant saving on fuel.

“When we have our vertical takeoff and landing vehicles ready for market, we will be able to fly in and out of virtually any location,” Newton emphasized. Short flights to concerts and athletic events that are now out of reach based on time and cost, will be possible in the future thanks to BETA’s technology. “Think about a time when you will be able to jump on one of our aircrafts that will carry five passengers and fly to Syracuse for an Orange football game or Montreal for a concert.”

Newton concluded with words of thanks to all those who have supported BETA’s vision. “We have wonderful partners who have played a critical role in our success. Vermont Governor Phil Scott and New York Governor Kathy Hochul, as well as State Senators on both sides of the Lake have championed our efforts. Garry Douglas and the team at the North Country Chamber of Commerce have also been very supportive, as has the Clinton County IDA.”

BETA Technologies

1150 Airport Drive

Burlington, VT 05403

31 Colorado Street

Plattsburgh, NY 12903

802 281-3623

sidebar: The Next Generation:

Life took a dramatic turn for four high school students in Clinton County recently when BETA Technologies, an electric aerospace company and CV-TEC, a provider of Career and Training programs, signed an agreement for a pilot program. Students in the school’s auto collision and repair program were invited to apply for positions in a 10-week program that would teach them the skills needed to work in BETA’s paint operation. After a rigorous selection process, the teens began the program that offers both classroom learning as well as real-world, hands-on experience sanding, prepping and painting the company’s aircrafts. Successful completion of the program provides professional certification and an enhanced opportunity for employment with BETA.

Once in production, BETA plans to fly its newly manufactured aircraft from the production facility at BTV across Lake Champlain to its flight test center at PBG. Here, the company will paint the aircraft prior to customer delivery. This tech school program is creating a pipeline of certified painters to do just that.

Michele Friedman, Director of Career & Technical Education at the CV-TEC Division of Champlain Valley Educational Services has been instrumental in the planning and delivery of the BETA pilot project. “We are delighted to be in partnership with BETA Technologies on this ground breaking joint training opportunity. Our North Country students are extraordinarily talented, and it gives us great pride to showcase and connect their talents with industry innovators such as BETA Technologies,” she observed.

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