Workhorse's SureFly Is an Extended-Range Hybrid Electric Helicopter

Workhorse claims its new helicopter is not only environmentally friendly, but safer to fly as well.

Workhorse

Not long after unveiling its W-15 electric pickup truck, Workhorse is planning to electrify a very different type of vehicle. The SureFly is a small extended-range electric helicopter the company plans to unveil at the Paris Air Show on June 19.

"The helicopter has been around for 78 years and is finally being reinvented," Workhorse CEO Stephen Burns said in a press release. Burns isn't just talking about the SureFly's electric propulsion; Workhorse believes its helicopter will be safer to fly than traditional designs.

With its four rotor arms, each holding two rotors, the SureFly looks like an oversized version of the drones Workhorse has been testing in concert with UPS. In fact, Workhorse wants future versions to be fully autonomous, with a payload of 400 pounds. However, the first 'copters will be operated by human pilots.

Like the W-15 truck, the SureFly is an extended-range electric vehicle that uses a combustion engine to generate electricity, with actual propulsion handled by electric motors. A 200-horsepower Honda gasoline engine generates power for eight electric motors--one for each carbon-fiber rotor.

The SureFly is designed to fly primarily with the gasoline engine on, using its battery pack as a backup power source in case of engine failure. If one of the electric motors fails, onboard computers can reroute power to the others to keep the helicopter in the air. Counter-rotation also eliminates the "death spin" helicopters are known for, according to Workhorse. The SureFly is equipped with a parachute to slow its descent in the event of both engine and battery-pack failure.

All of these redundancies should make the SureFly safer than conventional helicopters, Workhorse says. However, it won't have the performance of regular choppers, with a maximum range of 70 miles and a top speed of 50 mph. Workhorse predicts the average flight distance will be only around 10 miles.

Workhorse plans to begin flight tests of the SureFly later this year, and hopes to achieve Federal Aviation Administration certification in 2019.