Archer Accuses eVTOL Rival Wisk Of ‘Weaponizing’ Legal System

Responding to Wisk Aero’s lawsuit alleging the theft of trade secrets, Archer Aviation has described the case as “entirely baseless” and accused its urban air mobility (UAM) rival of “reckless innuendo and rank speculation” in a bid to “weaponize the legal system” to harm the startup.

In April, Boeing/Kitty Hawk joint venture Wisk filed a lawsuit alleging employees hired away by Archer stole data, including an undisclosed patent application for its sixth-generation electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) vehicle. 

Filed in January 2020, the patent application described an aircraft closely resembling the Maker eVTOL unveiled by Archer in February 2021 when it announced a merger with Atlas Crest Investment that will provide $1.1 billion to develop and field its eVTOL air taxi.

Answering Wisk’s claims, Archer said it had developed the “12-tilt-6” eVTOL design before any Wisk employees joined the company. The design has 12 lift rotors for vertical flight, six of which also tilt to provide thrust in wing-borne flight.

Founded in October 2018, Archer said it hired independent consultant FlightHouse Engineering in September 2019 to preform conceptual design of its aircraft. By early December 2019, Archer said, FlightHouse had modeled a number of aircraft designs, including the 12-tilt-6.

“On the day the first Wisk employee arrived (on December 6), FlightHouse has already modeled the 12-tilt-6 and was actively conducting simulations on this design,” the startup said in its rebuttal filed June 1 with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

“By December 12, FlightHouse identified the 12-tilt-6 as a top design contender based on the strong performance attributes reflected in simulations run in FlightHouse’s proprietary software,” the rebuttal said. “Archer’s aircraft had been developed and analyzed before a single former Wisk employee started work at Archer.”

In its answer to Wisk’s claims, Archer said: “Wisk does not actually identify even a single Wisk trade secret ever used by, or even know to, Archer. Wisk’s patent claims are equally meritless and improper.” Archer has filed a motion to dismiss Wisk’s lawsuit as baseless.

The startup has also filed counterclaims of tortious interference and unfair competition, arguing the lawsuit was filed by Wisk “for an obvious and impermissible purpose: to impede the success of, and investment in, Archer and its state-of-the art aircraft design.”

“Archer’s filing confirms the strength of Wisk’s claims, and changes nothing about the case—it contains no substantive response to the allegations Archer misappropriated more than 50 specific Wisk trade secrets, which were disclosed in a court filing last month and cover multiple components, systems and designs for the aircraft,” a Wisk spokesperson said.

“Tellingly, Archer cannot deny that thousands of files were stolen from Wisk by current Archer employees, which contain confidential information especially relevant to the design Archer has touted,” he said.

Based in Portland, Oregon, FlightHouse was co-founded in 2016 by experienced unmanned aircraft designers Jay Gundlach and Calder Hughes. Gundlach previously worked at Aurora Flight Sciences and Insitu, and Hughes at Zipline, eVTOL developer Zee.Aero (now Kitty Hawk) and Insitu.

FlightHouse in 2017 was selected to design and build the airframe for Airbus Acubed’s Vahana eVTOL demonstrator. Linkedin lists Hughes as vice president of engineering at FlightHouse and says Gundlach left the company in April to establish RapidFlight Holdings. 

Backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, Kitty Hawk was founded in 2010 as Zee.Aero and began flight testing its Cora autonomous two-seat eVTOL in 2017. In 2019, Kitty Hawk and Boeing formed Wisk to take over development of the Cora and certify and operate autonomous urban air taxis. 

Graham Warwick

Graham leads Aviation Week's coverage of technology, focusing on engineering and technology across the aerospace industry, with a special focus on identifying technologies of strategic importance to aviation, aerospace and defense.