DoD's First Electric Aircraft Charging Station is a BETA Supercharger

AFWERX and one of its Prime division partners, BETA Technologies, an electric aerospace company, broke ground on the first electric aircraft charging station on a military installation at Duke Field, Florida, Sept. 19, 2023. The expected completion date for the Level 3 direct current electric vehicle fast charging station construction project is Oct. 13, 2023, weeks before BETA’s electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft arrives for testing. (Image: U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

The first Department of Defense (DoD) electric aircraft installation will be a Level 3 supercharger provided by Vermont-based electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) developer BETA Technologies. According to a Sept. 19 Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) press release, the expected completion date for the first U.S. military installation of an electric aircraft charging station is Oct. 13, 2023, weeks before BETA’s electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft arrives for testing.

BETA has been working with the U.S. Air Force's AFWERX Agility Prime program since 2020, first receiving Air Force airworthiness approval for its ALIA eVTOL aircraft in May 2021. Now, a year after Air Force airmen completed their first test flight with ALIA, AFWERX has begun the construction project for the first charging station to be deployed at Duke Field, Florida.

“Level 1 is a typical home power outlet and would take days to charge an eVTOL. Level 2 is a dryer or air conditioning outlet and would take hours. Level 3 is a supercharger and only takes minutes,” said Maj. Riley Livermore, 413th Flight Test Squadron flight commander. “And that's what these companies need, because if you want to make it viable from a commercial or military perspective, I can't wait 24 hours to charge my airplane. They need to do it in less than an hour.”

To achieve the speeds necessary for fast charging, Level 3 chargers require an extremely high-powered current. To provide enough power to the 480-volt, 400-amp charging station, Livermore said the base had to upgrade its power grid and bought a 1,000-kilowatt volt-amp transformer that can increase or decrease the voltage and intensity of an electric current while keeping electricity flow consistent.

This is an image of BETA Technologies' Level 3 supercharging station shared across several of its social media pages. (Image: BETA Technologies)

“You can power roughly 250 homes simultaneously with the amount of power one charger is using,” Livermore added.

Located 10 miles north of Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, Duke Field was strategically selected as the test field for electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft. The field is home to the Air Force’s rotary wing test squadron, the 413th Flight Test Squadron.

“The 413th has a breadth of experience testing a variety of rotor wing aircraft and we’re looking to those experts to assist with the testing of eVTOL aircraft,” said Maj. Anthony Zartman, AFWERX Agility Prime program lead. “We've grown to the point now with our partners that we’re ready to put hardware at multiple bases and take a close look at possible use cases. It’s an exciting time for our program.”

AFWERX is partnering with the eVTOL commercial industry to bring zero-emission aviation to the military along with other benefits, including a quiet noise profile and the cost savings to operate and maintain its fleet without dependency on traditional fossil fuels.

“Our mission is to continue to be at the leading edge of emerging technologies in the aerospace industry,” Zartman added. “AFWERX has integrated with each of these eVTOL companies as early as possible, so we can potentially influence those designs and also be up to speed on the pros and cons of current technology. Then we’ll decide whether or not to continue to pursue those technologies, or perhaps pursue them in different ways. When the technology is advanced to a level where it provides a capability for the warfighter, we'll be ready to pull the trigger and execute.”