Historic 1st Electric Helicopter Flight
By Chris Clarke
During a recent flight by Tier 1 Engineering in Costa Mesa, California, a full-size fully electric helicopter flew successfully through hover, takeoff, cruise, and landing. The battery-powered helicopter reached an altitude of 400 feet above the ground and a maximum speed of 92 mph during the short but historic five-minute flight.
The engineering team created the unique aircraft by first removing the six cylinder internal combustion engine that comes standard on the ubiquitous Robinson R44 helicopter. Robinson is a global leader in light helicopter manufacturing and the R44 four-seat single-engine model has become its flagship aircraft. In lieu of the heavy 500-lb. Lycoming piston engine, they attached dual lightweight 100-lb. permanent magnet electric motors to the existing drivetrain and flight control system. This weight savings helps to accommodate the 1,100 lbs. of battery slung under the belly and attached to the landing gear. All 700 volts and 100 amp-hours of juice provide up to 20 minutes of flight time and approximately 35 miles of range while lifting a total hefty weight of 2,500 lbs.
Ultimately the goal is for the aircraft is to carry two people and three manufactured organs with a total payload weight of 600 lbs for nearly three hours. You read that correct. Organs. Tier 1 Engineering has been contracted by Lung Biotechnology PBC to create an electrically powered semi-autonomous rotor craft for organ delivery (EPSAROD). Lung Biotechnology PBC hopes to apply this technology towards distributing manufactured organs for transplantation to major hospitals with much less noise and carbon footprint than the current technology can provide.
According to Glen Dromgoole, President of Tier 1 Engineering: "Never before has a conventional manned helicopter performed a vertical takeoff, cruise and landing solely on battery power, and we are thrilled to have further achieved 400 feet altitude and 80 knots during our first full test flight."
Leaving the human element in the development equation eliminates many of the restrictions placed on unmanned aerial systems (UAS) while continuing to foster autonomous innovation. While on-demand Uber drone taxis may be in the dreams of our future, automated door-to-door organ delivery seems to be well on its way to reality.