The hybrid two-seat helicopter SureFly from the electric truck company Workhorse made it off the ground this week.
While a few feet of hover might seem insignificant, the passenger drone startup is hailing the untethered lift-off with a pilot outside of Cincinnati, Ohio, as a huge success. For the hybrid gas- and battery-powered vertical take-off and landing vehicle (known as VTOL), this means the copter is on its way to flying with passengers inside. Once airborne, the craft will have a 75-mile range.
“People want to have something in their garage to take out and fly,” SureFly CEO Steve Burns said in a call Friday afternoon. “We’re trying to make it safer than driving your car to the same destination.”
SureFly made headlines earlier this year after its planned CES flight in Nevada was called off for inclement weather.
But five months later, the battery-backup craft made its first move closer to true flight — and with FAA experimental certification. That’s an achievement SureFly is hoping will get the aircraft up and running by 2020. Technical and regulatory limitations have kept the craft grounded.
For Burns his passenger drone could compete with Uber’s electric air taxi concept, along with many mainstream aviation companies’ VTOL efforts, but it could also be a tool for a farmer, a commuter, or a paramedic. He said his company decided to move away from an all-electric craft after studying lithium-ion batteries from the company’s electric trucks.
“We didn’t think an all electric craft was ready for prime time yet,” he said. Most air taxis are developing an electric powered vehicle.
Burns is well aware that VTOL air taxis are racing to be the first to fly passengers short distances. Even if the craft only made it 5 feet above ground, he said the hover is as significant as hovering 500 feet as it requires the same tech, mechanisms, and effort.
Next stop: flying.