The Workhorse Group is looking to transform aviation with the introduction of the SureFly helicopter concept at the Paris Air Show on June 19th.
The Workhorse SurFly is a hybrid-electric 2 seat helicopter that utilizes 8 electric motors to propel it and an onboard gasoline engine that generates the electricity. A lithium-ion battery pack serves as a backup battery source and reveals the inevitable future of a fully electric personal helicopter when battery energy density passes the tipping point. Using a gasoline engine allows for faster refuelling — though, with the estimated average trip distance of 10 miles, fast fillups will not be necessary most of the time.
Early models will be operated by humans (how archaic!), but the company has a long-term objective of adding fully autonomous flight capabilities. The SureFly has a payload capacity of 400 pounds and a range of around 50 miles per tank. Workhorse sees the SureFly as the next generation of personal transportation and then some:
“The helicopter has been around for 78 years and is finally being reinvented,” said Stephen Burns, CEO of Workhorse. “We’re excited to unveil the SureFly on the world stage as we believe it represents a major step forward for the global aviation industry. We’ve designed SureFly by leveraging our expertise in battery-electric powered mobility, controls and gas generators to accelerate the speed to market in this sector.”
The Workhorse SureFly’s motors operate as pairs of fixed, redundant contra-rotating propellers on each arm, much like modern personal drones. In the event of a complete failure, the SureFly has an integrated ballistic parachute that is designed to bring the craft back down to land safely.
The craft was designed much like the smaller personal drones in use by many hobbyists around the world, flush with carbon fiber:
- VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing)
- Onboard GPS Navigation System
- Detect and Avoid Sensors
- Maximum flight distance: 50 miles
- Maximum Altitude: 3000 feet
- Maximum Payload; 400 lbs.
- Target Weight: 1,100 lbs.
- Maximum Speed: 50 mph
- Honda Aviation Gasoline Engine, 200 Horsepower @6000 RPM
- Battery Backup System
- Maximum theoretical battery power: 20.8 amp hours
- Expected power under normal operating conditions:12.8 amp hours
-  Propellers, 4 Propeller Arms, each arm supports  counter-rotating propellers
- Carbon Fiber Fuselage
- Carbon Fiber Propeller Arms
- Carbon Fiber Propellers
The SureFly was developed to be a sustainable mode of personal transportation, serving as the first plug-in hybrid electric helicopter that puts the first bold stake in the sand for what personal electric helicopters might look like as the world pivots towards fully electric transportation on land and in the air.
Part of the vision for Surefly is a new method of transportation. To maximize efficiency of the overall flight, Surefly will fly vertically up from liftoff to the maximum altitude based on the destination. From there, it will slowly descend towards the destination in a gradual drift.
Safety was a top concern for the Workhorse team and that shows in the long list of safety features in the craft:
- Zero single points of failure.
- Eight independent motors, each driving a single carbon fiber propeller.
- If a motor fails, the main system control unit automatically detects failure and safely brings the aircraft down with the remaining 7 propellers.
- Counter-rotating propellers allow for stability and eliminate a “death spin” that helicopters are known for.
- In the event of engine failure, a battery pack will safely bring the aircraft down. In the event of engine failure and battery pack failure, a ballistic parachute automatically engages [or can be manually be manually engaged by either passenger], which brings the complete aircraft down safely.
- System diagnostics constantly monitor all critical components.
SureFly utilizes the same proven hybrid electric technology that Workhorse developed for its commercial medium-duty plug-in hybrid electric trucks and vans, just in a (completely) different form factor. Workhorse has not simply built a large drone with 2 seats and a PHEV powertrain but truly reimagined the helicopter from the ground up.
Workhorse envisions the SureFly being used by emergency responders, city commuters, the military, and precision agriculture. Traditional helicopters and, increasingly, drones are already used in most of these cases today. The merging of high-tech, lower-cost drone technology and expensive helicopters in the SureFly seems like the natural evolution of the demands of these markets.
Workhorse will begin test flights in the back half of 2017 in an effort to achieve Federal Aviation Administration certification in 2019.