COSTA MESA, Calif. --- Tier 1 Engineering's battery-powered manned helicopter program achieved a successful first hover on September 13, a first hover taxi on September 14 and a record five-minute cruise flight to 400 feet altitude with a peak speed of 80 knots on September 21. The helicopter was a modified Robinson R44 test piloted by Captain Ric Webb of OC Helicopters.
All flights were accomplished at the Los Alamitos Army Airfield under a special airworthiness certificate in the experimental category issued by FAA's Los Angeles MIDO. Tier 1 Engineering accomplished the project under contract from Lung Biotechnology PBC to produce an Electrically-Powered Semi-Autonomous Rotorcraft for Organ Delivery (EPSAROD).
Tier 1 Engineering said the range of the proof-of-concept helicopter tested on September 21 is estimated at 20 minutes or approximately 30 nautical miles. The company expects to improve the endurance using higher energy density batteries, a more efficient electrical drive system, and ultimately a more aerodynamic airframe.
According to Tier 1 Engineering, the helicopter had a gross weight of 2,500 lbs and a basic empty weight of 1,250 lbs. A series of 11 Brammo battery modules weighing 1,100 lbs completely powered the aircraft. The flight controls and drive train were unchanged from that of a Robinson R44, although a digital cockpit display was added for pilot management of torque and power, as well as for data logging.
"I'm very pleased to achieve this historic breakthrough in aviation," said Glen Dromgoole, President of Tier 1 Engineering. "Never before has a 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."
The Tier 1 Engineering team designed and integrated all of the helicopter sub-systems, which included the Brammo Lithium Polymer batteries, twin electric motors and a control system from Rinehart Motion Systems. The historic five-minute flight on September 21 drained approximately 20 percent of the battery energy.
Lung Biotechnology PBC intends to apply the EPSAROD technology to distributing manufactured organs for transplantation to major hospitals with much less noise and carbon footprint than current technology. Tier 1 Engineering is an aircraft design and development company with operations in Costa Mesa, California, and Victoria, Australia.