Chris Caputo stood on the tarmac at Burlington International Airport in Vermont in early October and looked to the clouds in the distance. He had piloted military and commercial aircraft over a long career, racking up thousands of flight hours, but the trip he was about to take would be very different.
That’s because the airplane Mr. Caputo would fly runs on batteries. Over the next 16 days, he and his colleagues flew the plane, an CX300 built by their employer, Beta Technologies, down the East Coast. They would make nearly two dozen stops to rest and recharge, flying through congested airspace in Boston, New York, Washington and other cities.
When the journey came to an end in Florida, Beta handed the plane over to the Air Force, which will experiment with it over the next few months. The trip offered a vision of what aviation could look like years from now — one in which the skies are filled with aircraft that do not emit the greenhouse gases that are dangerously warming up the Earth.
“We’re doing some really meaningful work for our state, our country and the planet,” Mr. Caputo said. “It’s hard not to want to be a part of it.”
A Flurry of Activity
For most of aviation history, electric aircraft have been little more than a fantasy. But technological advancements, particularly in batteries, and billions of dollars of investment have helped make short-distance electric air travel feasible — and, its backers hope, commercially viable.
Beta, which is privately held, has raised more than $800 million from investors like Fidelity, Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund and the private equity firm TPG Capital. The company employs about 600 people, mostly in Vermont, and recently finished building a factory in Burlington where it plans to mass produce its aircraft, which have yet to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The first will be the CX300, a sleek, futuristic plane with a 50-foot wingspan, large curved windows and a rear propeller. That plane is designed to carry about 1,250 pounds of cargo and will be followed soon after by the A250, which shares about 80 percent of the CX300’s design and is outfitted with lift rotors to take off and land like a helicopter. Both aircraft, which Beta markets as the Alia, will eventually carry passengers, the company says.
Beta is one of many companies working on electric aviation. In California, Joby Aviation and Archer Aviation are developing battery-powered aircraft capable of vertical flight…