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Workhorse receives FAA Certification for SureFly test flight

SureFly. Source: Workhorse

SureFly brings a hybrid engine to the aviation world with demonstration flights at CES

As the world turns to marvel at the latest technological advances coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week, electric aviation will be one of the first sectors out the blocks.

Workhorse Group, the American EV developer behind the W-15 pickup and the E-GEN and N-GEN vans, will be test flying its latest innovation. On January 3 the company confirmed that it has received an Experimental Airworthiness Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that will allow the company to conduct test flights of its SureFly™ electric hybrid helicopter.

The first test flight is scheduled for 12:00 p.m. local time in Las Vegas on January 8 (today), ahead of the start of the event.

It also follows a December 27 statement in which Workhorse announced its intention to spin off the SureFly business into a separate publicly traded company called SureFly, Inc.


Sure thing

First unveiled at the Paris Air Show in June last year, SureFly claims to be the world’s first electric hybrid helicopter.

Built with a drone-like octocopter design, the aircraft is capable of carrying two people and 400lbs (180 kg) of payload around 70 miles. It’s held aloft by four propeller arms, featuring two fixed contra-rotating propellers on each arm.

Images released by Workhorse also show these rotors folded up, suggesting the aircraft can be made more compact for storage and shipping.

SureFly with folded rotors. Source: Workhorse.
SureFly with folded rotors. Source: Workhorse.

As it is a hybrid, the primary source of power for these rotors is a gasoline piston engine, supported by two 7.5kWh battery packs. In fact, the battery pack, management systems and controls are the same as those in  the W-15. According to the manufacturer, these are capable of providing around 5 minutes of flight and can be used for emergency landing power in the event of an engine failure. It’s small beans, even in the world of electric aviation, but it looks to be an interesting proof of concept.

In particular, Workhorse says it will be “much more affordable than a conventional helicopter” – around US$200,000 per unit – and appears to hold this as its primary selling point as it looks to market the aircraft, in particular to applications in “precision agriculture, surveillance, aerial inspection, emergency response tasks, urban commuting and various military [uses].” However, with a flight ceiling of 4,000 feet and a maximum flight time of around an hour with a full tank of fuel, these are unlikely to be intensive operations.

And, in the event that any of this goes wrong, it also features a reassuring ballistic parachute.

SureFly cabin. Source: Workhorse.
SureFly cabin. Source: Workhorse.

While early models will be pilot-operated, Workhorse also intends for future models to be capable of autonomous flight, presumably allowing it to compete in the same markets targeted by e-mobility majors like Uber.

The company is working toward achieving full FAA certification in late 2019. If you cant wait that long however, and you’re in the neighbourhood of CES, the SureFly will be on display at Workhorse’s stand, in the Central Plaza at Booth #31.


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