The electrification of mobility has hit every industry to some degree or another, with some barely catching on but now doing so. The helicopter industry has been slow to adopt electricity, but the Californian consulting company Tier 1 Engineering is up to the challenge.
Tier 1 Engineering Converts a Helicopter to Electricity, Snatches Guinness World Record
Tier 1 Engineering and LungBioTechnology converted an R44 helicopter to electricity a while back, and just recently achieved a 34.5 miles (30 nautical miles) flight.
Technically called an Electrically-Powered Semi-Autonomous Rotorcraft for Organ Delivery (EPSAROD), its flight started at Los Alamitos Army Airfield and lasted over 22 minutes at around 92 mph (80 knots) for an altitude of 800 feet.
The electric helicopter set a Guinness World Record for the farthest helicopter flight powered by electricity. It was flown by Ric Webb of OC Helicopters under a special air-worthiness certificate’s experimental category, issued by FAA’s Los Angeles manufacturing inspection district office. The helicopter first flew in 2016.
According to Tier 1 Engineering, “[it] achieved a successful first hover on Tuesday, September 13th, a first hover taxi on Wednesday, September 14th and a record five-minute cruise flight to 400 feet altitude with a peak speed of 80 knots on Wednesday, September 21st. The helicopter was a modified Robinson R44 test piloted by Captain Ric Webb of OC Helicopters.”
Glen Dromgoole, President of Tier 1 Engineering, added: “I’m very pleased to achieve this historic breakthrough in aviation. 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.”
The Robinson R44 helicopter swapped its Lycoming IO-540, six cylinder, fuel injected engine for a 67 kWh battery pack of lithium-polymer batteries weighing 1,100 lb (about 500 kilos). To do this, it used a Brammo battery pack, bought by Cummins in 2017, as we reported at the time.
Two electric motors from the electric specialty and race-car engineering company Rinehart Motion Systems were also included. The company is known for its hybrid control systems for Formula 1.
The first flight was on September 21, 2016, and lasted 5 minutes at 400 ft (120 m) and 80 kt (148 km/h, ~92 mph). It landed with 80% of energy left. The Tier 1 Robinson R44 is expected to fly for 150 minutes and lift a payload of 600 lb (272 kg) with an upgraded battery pack.
Tier 1 Robinson R44 Means Electric Helicopters Are Coming
Tier 1 Engineering isn’t technically the first electric flight recorded in a helicopter. Pascal Chretien was the first in France in 2011 with his ultralight Solution F. The electric aircraft achieved a 2-minute flight in a manned electric helicopter. Also in 2010, a modified Sikorsky Firefly project used a Sikorsky-Schweizer S-300C with a U.S. Hybrid Technologies electric motor and two lithium-ion battery packs. It could fly 12 to 15 minutes.
Lastly, I have to share this one with our French-speaking readers regarding Segolene Royale, a well-known French politician filmed testing a French electric helicopter in 2016. In this lip-sync remake of the official video, you can see her getting on the electric aircraft and stepping off, apparently very nauseous.
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