The Workhorse SureFly hybrid helicopter recently completed its first untethered flight at a facility on April 30th. The event was witnessed by Federal Aviation Administration officials and follows their approval of the aircraft for further testing in January of this year. The flight or hover lasted roughly 10 seconds and saw the aircraft get roughly 5 feet of air. Even longer hover times were recorded in the following days.
Plans for the SureFly were initially revealed at a Paris Airshow in June 2017 and since then the development of the aircraft has undergone a number of changes. At the time of their introduction to the hybrid helicopter, Workhorse, the Ohio based manufacturer of the aircraft and their CEO, Stephen Burns, indicated that they were thrilled and excited to present what they consider to be a step forward for the aviation industry. Mr. Burns was further quoted as saying, “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 Group Incorporated, formerly, AMP Electric Vehicles until 2015, is an innovations technology company focused on the development, manufacture, and introduction of battery-powered, extended range utility vehicles to the transportation sector. The company is headquartered in Cincinnati and has been integral in the development of several electric vehicles. Workhorse has expressed an interest in the future development of self-sufficient helicopters, but for now, it is content to develop aircraft operated by humans. Hence, the SureFly.
The SureFly hybrid helicopter is what is commonly referred to as a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicle, which essentially means that take off, hover, and touch down of the aircraft can be achieved vertically.
According to experts, VTOL aircraft pose some difficulty, technically speaking but in other ways, they are extremely beneficial. For example, the capability of a vertical takeoff and landing eliminates the need for an airstrip or multiple stops conserving both time and fuel. They are more efficient in the sense that their wings are developed to avoid the compromises that traditionally fixed-wing aircraft encounter and they are safer as a result of the vertical takeoff and landing innovation which negates the possibility of the type of incidents commonly seen during these portions of flights.
VTOL aircraft are additionally an advantage to law enforcement or military during times of unrest or evacuation as they can land at a staging site or scene and take off in the same spot rapidly.
A few of the VTOL principles previously mentioned are the reason industry insiders are indicating that the SureFly may become a useful resource for the air taxi industry. Air taxis market themselves through the ideology that they are capable of conveying passengers or cargo expediently and safely from point A to point B. However, the company’s website states that it may be effectively used across several industries, like in emergency response, aerial agriculture and for military purposes.
Although the SureFly is a helicopter or rotor winged vehicle as opposed to fixed-wing, some of the same VTOL principles apply. That said, the SureFly has the futuristic appearance of a human-sized drone in contrast to that of a traditional helicopter.
Besides its vertically inclined enhancements, the SureFly is an impressive aircraft. Despite its compact size, its cabin can comfortably seat a pilot plus one passenger or accommodate a pilot and cargo. Up to 400 pounds in fact.
Its hybrid technologies make use of a combination of power sources, a gas combustion engine and an onboard battery pack consisting of dual lithium batteries with 7.5 kWh, whose objective is to serve as a fail-safe if the engine stalls. The battery pack allows for up to five minutes of flight time to provide an opportunity for the aircraft to launch a safe touchdown attempt.
The SureFly hybrid helicopter currently possesses a 200-horsepower piston generator, however, Workhorse has indicated that they may offer a variant in the form of a 300-horsepower turbine-powered alternative in the future. According to Workhorse, the turbine alternative will be more costly but improvements in payload capacity or range extensions would offset the difference in price.
Additionally, the SureFly features eight independent motors supplying power to four carbon filament propeller arms. Each arm contains two fixed counter-rotating propellers. The arms are conveniently capable of folding down making storage of the SureFly in an average-sized garage easy.
As the fuselage and propeller arms are constructed from carbon fibers, the aircraft is extremely light with a curb weight of 1100 pounds and sporting a maximum takeoff weight of approximately 1500 pounds. Its anticipated performance will see the SureFly hybrid helicopter capable of achieving speeds slightly over 70 miles per hour across a distance of roughly 70 plus miles when empty up to a max flight ceiling of 4000 feet.
Safety was a contributing factor in the design and development of the SureFly hybrid helicopter. Workhorse implemented a ballistic parachute to aid in facilitating a safe landing should engines fail and each propeller is powered by an individual motor. This makes it possible for the SureFly to maintain the ability to fly with as few as four working props.
Workhorse has said that their objective was to create a personal helicopter that featured state of the art design, modern innovation in performance generation and the implementation of numerous safety advantages. They further wanted to improve upon ease of use and allow for an extensive range despite being electrically powered. Plus, the small environmental footprint the aircraft imparts is certain to not go unnoticed either. Not only did they achieve their goal, but they have also surpassed it as the SureFly is affordably priced at only $200,000.
The company started taking deposits for the SureFly hybrid helicopter at the Paris Air Show where they debuted their plans, and have said the interest in the aircraft has exceeded even their expectations. One reason may be that the interest in the aircraft far extends the average aviation industry aficionado and has started to stir the curiosity of everyman. The aircraft is expected to certify sometime in 2019. Fans of the SureFly can see it in action at this years EAA AirVenture expected to commence on July 23.