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Burlington company’s electric plane dreams aim to revolutionize aviation

Published: Aug. 28, 2020 at 8:09 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 28, 2020 at 6:15 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A cutting-edge Vermont aviation company helped celebrate the Burlington airport’s 100th anniversary Friday with a flyover of several communities. Channel 3′s Christina Guessferd got an inside look at BETA Technologies,’ a company that’s hoping to set the pace for aviation for the next century and beyond.

“The pieces of formation flying are all about discipline and precision,” said BETA Technologies’ Chris Caputo. Skills vital for testing out brand new technologies. While the pilots above Chittenden County Friday communities Friday may be flying conventional Cessnas now, Caputo says it’s all practice for when they’ll get in the cockpits of the company’s electric plane prototypes.

Caputo says over his more than 30 years in aviation, he’s never seen anything like the futuristic machinery emerging from this facility. “I truly believe BETA Technologies is going to be the Wright Brothers of the 21st century, completely revolutionizing aviation,” he said. And it’s all happening in Burlington’s backyard.

The company uses a 41,000 square-foot building at the Burlington airport’s north hangar property to develop electric plane prototypes. Right now, a 7,000 lbs. prototype with a 50-foot wingspan is stationed at the Plattsburgh International Airport.

“We’ve taken the skids and the wheels off the ground about 150 times,” said Kyle Clark, the company’s CEO & Founder. He says they’ve named the prototype ALIA-250. “To keep reminding us that the goal is to fly that distance,” he said.

Clark says that’ll make ALIA the first electric aircraft to commercially transport organs and blood products directly between hospitals, or packages to people’s homes and businesses. Handling precious cargo means it’s important that BETA’s team has the technology down pat. “Flying a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft is not like flying a helicopter or flying a fixed-wing aircraft,” Clark said.

It’s embedded in the company’s mission to teach every team member how to fly, so when BETA is prototyping parts and building electric planes, each engineer and pilot has knowledge about aircraft they can bring to the table.

“This simulator is actually used to train the folks that are flying the electric aircraft,” Clark explained.

And some of those folks are born and bred in Vermont. Clark says about three-quarters of the company’s 100 employees have some kind of connection to Vermont, and they want to hire 50 more. “Through going to school at Middlebury, or UVM, or St. Mike’s,” he said.

The company is not only developing electric planes, it’s also creating a network of state-of-the-art recharging pads across the East Coast and beyond. Clark says it’s all part of a long-term plan. “By the end of the decade, I’m pretty confident we’ll have fully autonomous aircraft delivering medicine and goods to people,” he said.

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