SureFly drone Photo: Workhorse
The SureFly personal helicopter could fit two people and travel up to 70 miles before needing to refuel.

Workhorse SureFly passenger drone gets FAA test-flight certification

FAA grants Workhorse permission to test hybrid helicopter during CES in Las Vegas next week. SureFly, the world’s first electric hybrid helicopter, features a drone-like octocopter design, a two-person, 400-pound payload capacity and a range of about 70 miles.

Workhorse Group 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 noon local time in Las Vegas on Monday, Jan. 8, before the start of the 2018 Consumer Electronic Show (CES).

Last week, Workhorse announced that it intends to spin off its SureFly business into a separate publicly traded company called SureFly Inc.

SureFly, the world’s first electric hybrid helicopter, features a drone-like octocopter design, a two-person, 400-pound payload capacity and a range of approximately 70 miles. SureFly was first unveiled at the Paris Air Show in June 2017. and will be on display at the Workhorse CES exhibit on the Central Plaza at Booth No. 31, near the main entrance of the show. The company is currently accepting SureFly pre-orders at its website. It says the final price should be less than $200,000.

SureFly says it is re-inventing the helicopter, making it safer, easier to fly and much more affordable than a conventional helicopter. Like a drone, the SureFly redundant design includes four propeller arms, two fixed contra-rotating propellers on each arm; and a backup lithium battery pack to drive the electric motors in the event of engine failure. In addition to its redundant safety features, SureFly includes a ballistic parachute that is designed to safely return the aircraft to the ground in emergency situations.

SureFly’s hybrid design uses Workhorse’s battery pack, management systems and controls utilized in its currently commercialized range-extended battery electric trucks. SureFly’s gasoline combustion engine generates electricity and a parallel battery pack offers a backup power source, eliminating the need for larger batteries or long battery charging periods between flights, according to the company. Pilots who have inspected SureFly are attracted to its easy-to-pilot design -- the aircraft is piloted by a joystick in a similar fashion to flying a drone. The SureFly is expected to be capable of carrying a pilot and passenger or cargo up to 70 miles. After a quick refueling, SureFly will be ready for the next hop.

Early models will be pilot-operated. Future models are intended to be capable of autonomous flight. Anticipated markets for the SureFly are precision agriculture, surveillance, aerial inspection, emergency response tasks, urban commuting and various military applications. The company is working toward full FAA certification of the helicopter in late 2019. The expected price of the SureFly is approximately $200,000.

Workhorse is a technology company focused on providing electric mobility solutions to the transportation sector. As an American OEM, it designs and builds high-performance battery-electric vehicles including trucks and delivery vans. The company also has developed cloud-based, real-time telematics performance monitoring systems that integrated with the vehicles with an aim to help fleet operators optimize energy and route efficiency. All Workhorse vehicles are designed to make the movement of people and goods more efficient and less harmful to the environment, according to the company. 

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