First Flight For Battery-Powered Helicopter

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Tier 1 Engineering has flown a battery-powered manned helicopter for a five-minute cruise flight, the company recently announced. The aircraft flew to 400 feet altitude and reached a peak speed of 80 knots during its first flight, which took place in late September in Costa Mesa, California. “I’m very pleased to achieve this historic breakthrough in aviation,” said Glen Dromgoole, Tier 1 president. “Never before has a conventional manned helicopter performed a vertical takeoff, cruise, and landing solely on battery power.” The aircraft carried 1100 pounds of Brammo lithium-polymer batteries, which powered twin electric motors and a motion control system from Rinehart Motion Systems. The five-minute flight drained about 20 percent of the available battery energy, the company said.

The company is developing the aircraft for Lung Biotechnology PBC, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, which intends to produce an electric-powered helicopter for distributing manufactured transplant organs to hospitals, with much less noise and carbon footprint than current technology. Sikorsky also has an electric-powered helicopter in the works, the Firefly, but it has not yet achieved a manned flight. Pascal Chretien of France flew his own electric-powered helicopter design untethered for two minutes and 10 seconds in 2011. He flew an additional 29 flights, but always in hover mode. He never achieved level flight.

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Comments (3)

Can someone please explain to me how lugging around 1,100 pounds of batteries for five minutes is better for this planet, than is burning five minutes worth of gasoline in a standard Robinson? The transplant organs would be far better transported by a quad-copter "drone."

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | October 18, 2016 9:24 AM    Report this comment

Because it's about research and development and is merely a stepping stone. 20 years from now batteries will be much smaller and lighter and will have much more energy density, and it would be nice if there were vehicles and aircraft that have gone sufficiently along the development cycle to take advantage of that battery technology when it becomes available.

Technology grows in small steps. Remember, the wright flyer couldn't fly more than 4 hours before its engine needed an overhaul. What if people back then said, "oh, that's not worth it, let's just give up on powered flight!"

Electric propulsion is the future and it's only going to grow as more and more advancements in the technology enable electric flight to become mainstream. This flight is a great proof of concept.

Posted by: Daniel Torres | October 18, 2016 9:45 AM    Report this comment

I hear this comment a lot: "20 years from now batteries will be much smaller and lighter and will have much more energy density." And yet there is absolutely no evidence for this belief. Brammo, Tesla and Sea-Kite all use the NCM chemistry which is the safest and has sufficient power densities. In order to take full advantage of electric and gain air time - one must consider a fuel powered charging system. That will extend the battery life and safety.

Posted by: Don Lineback | October 19, 2016 9:35 AM    Report this comment

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