Tier 1 Engineering’s third generation Robinson R44 electric helicopter has successfully completed a historic airport-to-airport cross-country flight to achieve the first electric helicopter flight between airfields.
In cooperation with its collaborator Lung Biotechnology PBC, Tier 1 Engineering completed the 21nm flight between Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport and Palm Springs International Airport on October 29, 2022, using a modified all-electric Robinson R44 helicopter (e-R44) flown by pilots Ric Webb of OC Helicopters and Martine Rothblatt of Lung Biotechnology.
“Progress in the development of all-electric propulsion is similar to other periods of significant advance in aviation,” said Glen Dromgoole, President of Tier 1 Engineering. “The first aircraft flew short distances, and many people were afraid to ride in the new flying machines. At the start of the Jet Age, there was widespread skepticism about the commercial viability of the turbine engine. Today’s historic flight demonstrates the potential of all-electric rotorcraft and we are thrilled by this achievement.”
The e-R44 uses a novel quick-swap technology for its helicopter battery packs to enable return trip flights without waiting for a recharge. The time required to swap a battery pack is 15 minutes compared to 1 hour for a full recharge. The specific cross-country route for this flight was chosen based upon FAA approval.
“These flights are the building blocks that lay the foundation where our future can continue to soar. I am excited and honored to be part of this amazing team, this historic event and furthering the advancement of making blue skies green,” said pilot Ric Webb, CEO of Part 135 helicopter operator OC Helicopters, which is planning to offer organ delivery services via the electric R44.
“Lung Biotechnology is committed to delivering life-saving transplantable organs with a zero-carbon footprint. It is fully possible to save patients’ lives while ensuring a livable planet,” said Dr. Martine Rothblatt, one of the helicopter’s pilots and the CEO of parent company United Therapeutics Corporation. “[This] historic inter-city electric helicopter flight demonstrates that many organ transport distances are doable with electric aircraft using today’s technology. We are committed to achieving FAA certification of this electric helicopter and to using newer energy cells to extend our ranges to hundreds of miles in the next few years.”
The all-electric e-R44 is designed to deliver manufactured organs for transplant by biotechnology company United Therapeutics. The company plans to use electric and sustainable aviation fueled fixed-wing aircraft to deliver transplantable organs long distances to airports and then to use eVTOLs for the shorter journeys such as from the airports to the transplant hospitals.