Electrically powered aircraft are a concept that has been known for some time and that many young companies are already working on. But e-helicopters are also a real possibility. The US company Tier 1 Engineering, together with Lung Biotechnology PBC, recently demonstrated this with a test flight in California. The model that was used was loud CleanTechnica a modified version of the “ordinary” Robinson R44 helicopter.
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First flight from one city to another
The helicopter is fully electric and is said to be the first of its kind to fly from one city to another or from one airport to another. The e-helicopter flew along the Coachella Valley in California from Jacqueline Cochran Airport to Palm Springs International Airport. The vehicle has thus covered at least 39 kilometers in 20 minutes.
The pilots on this flight were Ric Webb, CEO of OC Helicopters, a local helicopter tour operator, and Martine Rothblatt, CEO of United Therapeutics, the biotechnology company that owns Lung Biotechnology. They also loaded the helicopter with 23 kilograms of ballast to simulate a transplant organ supply system in the rear cabin.
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E-helicopters are making great strides
Tier 1 Engineering and Lung Biotechnology PBC enabled and sponsored the flight. Tier 1 Engineering has been working on electric helicopters for years and regularly sets records in this segment. In 2016, such a helicopter made a five-minute flight. At the time, that was still a real milestone, but the latest flight has surpassed it by far.
According to Glen Dromgoole, President of Tier 1 Engineering, the e-R44 electric helicopter had a 50 percent battery charge as it completed its airport-to-airport flight. “We believe we are developing a really practical solution for short-haul helicopter flights, such as organ delivery, pilot training, scenic flights and other inner-city flights,” said Dromgoole.
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Development since 2016
United Therapeutics’ Martine Rothblatt began researching the potential of electric helicopters about six years ago, around the time the Tesla Model 3 was unveiled. “Dromgoole was the first person to respond positively to Rothblatt’s request. Tier 1 Engineering was commissioned in early 2016 to rapidly build and fly a proof-of-concept electric helicopter.” Electric helicopters could potentially become commercially competitive in the future as improvements continue to be made.