Electric-Powered Robinson R44 Takes Flight


Everett, Washington-based Magnix, a developer of all-electric aviation propulsion systems, announced today (June 7) that its partner Tier 1 Engineering, a self-described Southern California-based “design and development company serving the aviation industry,” flew an electric-powered Robinson R44 helicopter over the weekend. The flight, which used a Magnix power source, lasted “more than three minutes.”

Tier 1 is developing the all-electric Robinson R44 for biotech company Lung Biotechnology PBC. The goal is “to address the severe shortage of transplantable organs in the U.S.”

Glen Dromgoole, president of Tier 1 Engineering, said, “This historic flight, of an all-electric helicopter with a certifiable electric engine, was an important step towards obtaining aircraft certification.” He said the next steps are to expand the flight envelope to cover more distance.

Magnix CEO Nuno Taborda said, “Magnix has been powering all-electric aircraft since December of 2019, and this flight represents another first for the company as we have now electrified a rotary aircraft.”

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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    • I take it you aren’t familiar with how flight tests work, then. And helicopter flight tests are performed even more deliberately than aircraft flight tests, given that the consequences of failure are higher.

      • This is clearly described in the article as “flight”, not a “test flight” at all. It’s got to be a stunt or a joke. Even my BMW will last three minutes at a stoplight on battery power alone.

        • Your beemer will never fly although it may go faster than a Robinson. Helicopters are flying the moment its off the ground, using power to hover. Can your beemer hover? Just configuring any helicopter to mate an electric motor and gearbox driving the rotorhead and tail is an engineering feat. I presume the gray appendage under the Robbi contains batteries and maybe taking up cabin space.

      • Get with the public school program. Only one religious group suffered in WWII, only one skin color were ever slaves, and only CO2 controls the climate. Simple answers for simpletons. Details only make it complicated 😉

  1. Surely some sucker investor or US taxpayers are funding this Rube Goldberg. How in the world does an electric helicopter with a three-minute endurance resolve a medical problem? I’m amazed that AVWeb would even report on such a ridiculous thing. Frank Robinson must be laughing uncontrollably in heaven.

  2. Go easy on the snickering. It’s just a milestone, a proof of concept and the start of much more research and testing.

    By the way, how long was the Wright brothers first flight? It was followed by many jokes and derision by the horse and carriage set, but I think it turned out pretty well.

      • Agreed but its a false comparison.

        The thermodynamic ability of internal combustion is adequate for these accomplishments, batteries are not. Electric motors are not the stumbling block but batteries are. See my post below.

        • Brian, they have been working on electric propulsion for LONGER than there have been aircraft! What we see after 100+ years of electric research is that electric still is not a viable option for aircraft. Aircraft, especially VTOL, need lots of energy. The Wrights, Lindbergh, Apollo 11 and now F-35’s all used liquid fuel becaus it was BETTER for the task of flight.

          • Agreed. Trying to electrify a helicopter is among the hardest tasks that they could have chosen. Let’s see how long it can hover on batteries.

  3. Funny how an article about a simple test to further R&D generates thinly-veiled arguments pro and against climate change. Once again Trumpians not just coming out and bleating their disdain for anything electrical. It’s perfectly their right but these same folks who denigrate Teslas won’t admit how wrong they were and years later won’t admit what a success EVs are. So now they turn to anything in the aviation space and continue their curmudgery.

    I’m slightly skeptical of anything flying on batteries but not against people trying, innovating and learning. They and their investors are free to pursue whatever ideals and vision they’d like.

    • What arguments are you talking about? Something from another web site?

      Seems to me this is a poorly worded story about a “test” that is really nothing more than a stunt to raise money for charity and get attention. Nothing was learned that was not known as far as I can tell. I don’t know what I don’t know, and the story isn’t saying.

      One doesn’t need to be Trumpist to point out the issues here which are only tangentially related to climate. If you want to denounce Trumpism or denial of climate change then do a better of job of it. These are not frivolities.

    • “Funny how an article about a simple test to further R&D generates thinly-veiled arguments pro and against climate change. Once again Trumpians not just coming out and bleating their disdain for anything electrical.”

      Did the article mention Trump? Yet it is YOU that seems to tie this non-accomplishment to Trump (who had nothing to do with the project) or to denigrate those who coincidentally may have supported him (or NOT). From the comments, it appears that there are both supporters and detractors aplenty for the EV project.

      Don’t let your politics color your comments–unless those political comments are a direct response to something someone in government supports or opposes–THEN limit your comments to what the actual person the government actually said–NOT those who may or may not agree with that person.

    • R.N. The disdain is for taking a working design and making it perform worse!
      If “I” was needing an organ flown in immediately “I” don’t want it to arrive too late because of range limitations. Call me selfish.

  4. After discharging a huge battery pack in 3 minutes, did they use a bucket of water to cool it down? The only batteries will ever be viable in aviation is to use an onboard generating system. A prototype will be on display at Oshkosh.

  5. Although I care don’t care about ‘anthropomorphic global warming’, even if it exists, I’m not opposed to electric motors powering airplane, its the batteries that are a non starter.

    From an earlier post I made in a related thread:

    ‘The only problem I have with the concept is the battery power. That aspect can’t work because of the weight, fire hazard, long charge times, short energy duration, and inevitable degradation and loss of what meager range there was when the pack was new.

    Hydrogen fuel cell or turbine driven generator would work better, but especially with the latter solution the expense and complexity becomes even more prohibitive.’

    • ‘anthropomorphic global warming,’ even if it exists. ‘

      It does, in the form of Mickey Mouse or Mr. Krabs. What you may be referring to is anthropogenic global warming, which, alas, can also be shown to exist. 🙂

        • If you’re right, Arthur, then the citizens of Earth have nothing to be concerned about.
          I don’t have the science background in this or a related field to opine either way. My field is the science of human behavior, and from what little I have learned in a lifetime of that work, for this subject I can ascribe to Mark Twain: ‘To be absolutely certain about something, one must know everything or nothing about it.’
          Either way, let’s plant more trees.

          • When all grant money is being sent in the field to find evidence of human caused warming, the only surprise is that only 97% of scientist agree.

            I think that your field of human behavior refers to this as “confirmation bias”. The great computer named Deep Thought in HHGG called it “the gravey train”.

  6. This appear to me to be a somewhat hastily-rewritten press release. (Such things happen in the fast-moving e-zine world. Cut Mark some slack.) Exactly how did owning Enstrom Helicopters benefit F. Lee Bailey’s law practice, more than simply owning ‘a’ helicopter?

    It is remarkable how many folks see a rather astounding technological feat, and respond with a “yeah, but …” argument to diminish it. The AvWeb community skews older; do none of you remember that radical idea of the “all-electric home” of the fifties, and the scorn of those who couldn’t imaging heating and cooling the air, water, and food in it from a mere electrical line?

    We have not yet seen any significant penetration of the fixed wing aircraft market by electric airplanes, but it’s coming. Given that it took 36 years after the Wright brothers for Sikorsky to develop a practical flying helicopter, I’d suggest that this electric R44 is being fast-tracked.

    • Again, the dead end is the batteries not the motor.

      HFC or a gas turbine or diesel powering a generator would work, but would be cost, weight, and complexity prohibitive.

      But it would still be better than a battery.

    • Chip, Electric heating is terribly inneficient. Thank goodness I have a natural gas service to heat the home. I was nice and warm during last years ice storms while others nearly froze to death in their “all electric homes”.

      • Uh…no. Electric heat is frequently expensive, but it is also 100% efficient – every watt that you suck out of the wall is converted to usable heat. Your natural gas system has an exhaust pipe that carries calories right on out of your house.

        • A huge load of electricity is required to utilize a resistance heater. That means it’s expensive and that makes it inneficient to heat a home. Electric is fine for lights, just not for heating large spaces.

      • My aunt and uncle and near neighbors built the “Medallion” all electric home of the future back in the 1960s and it was a disaster in terms of both cost and performance. In the wintertime I would see my uncle out with a water hose trying to defrost their heat pump so they could warm the house, and this was in a mild CA climate.

  7. At least, continuing development of the electric drive components can be considered useful. When those repeatedly announced breakthrough batteries that will provide the needed 2500% increase in power density hit the market we can have a fleet of flying machines sitting ready to plug them into.

  8. A 2500% increase in power density would help a lot, but at a price analogous to a tank of Jet A or Avgas, with a favorable safety profile, it’s about as likely as seeing Biden at a Mensa meeting.

  9. Looks like a seriously misleading headline here – according to their website, Tier 1 has been flying an electric R44 since the end of 2018:

    “Santa Ana, CA, December 10, 2018 — Tier 1 Engineering announced today that they have set a Guinness World Record for the farthest distance traveled by an electric helicopter. The battery-powered manned helicopter achieved a record 30 nautical mile flight to 800 feet altitude with an average speed of 80 knots on Friday, December 7th. The helicopter was a modified Robinson R44 test piloted by Captain Ric Webb of OC Helicopters.”

    Looks like the news here is that they’re using a certifiable motor.

    • The R44 is being used as a test bed. The company’s end goal is developing an unmanned organ transport vehicle.

      Apparently no one told them that a DJI could already do it. Maybe the mission isn’t quite as simple as you might guess?