The Drive Checked out the SureFly Passenger Drone in NYC Aug. 13

We visited Workhorse's public display in Manhattan Monday to take a closer peek at the SureFly. It took discipline not to beg for a free unit.

Marco Margaritoff

The Workhorse Group took over New York City’s Flatiron Plaza Monday and braved the drizzly weather in order to publicly display two of its most exciting new products: the range-extended, lithium-ion battery-powered W-15 electric pickup and the personal hybrid electric, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) SureFly passenger drone

Granted, we’ve covered both of these vehicles in the past, but they’re still in quite nascent, early stages of presence in both of their respective industries. The SureFly is smaller than your traditional helicopter and is actually not a quadcopter, but uses eight rotors in order to increase flight safety and boost potentially vital control measures. Workhorse co-founder and CEO Steve Burns was on site and had some pretty exciting news to share with us, as well as his view on the Federal Aviation Administration’s lack of foresight in terms of not cooperating with domestic drone companies sooner than they could, and arguably should have. 

When I suggested they might finally understand that now, and that the past two years have shown the aviation authority making some great, proactive strides in this department (one need only look at the UAS Integration Pilot Program, for instance), he couldn’t have agreed more. “They missed it with drones,” said Burns in reference to the FAA’s past attitude resulting in a sizeable exodus of domestic drone companies looking elsewhere for research and development. 

But Burns didn’t want to move his operation to New Zealand (his example) and wanted this to be a very much American endeavor. Fortunately, he found an agreeable FAA and the kind of relationship he needed to make it work. “When you go to them and say, ‘Look, don’t thwart us, we want to make this American,’ they get it,” he explained. 

The SureFly prototype, placed neatly on the plaza at the intersection of 23rd and 5th is already being tinkered with and refined back at headquarters, Burns revealed. The primary focus for this upcoming, second iteration is weight reduction and quality assurance. When I asked him when exactly I could pick my own unit up, I didn’t expect as pointed an answer which both shocked and delighted me. 

“Two years,” he said, concisely and with a reassuring nod. While this both felt completely feasible and logical, yet still stunningly close and immediate, it’s frankly not too surprising to hear. Boeing, for instance, most recently stated that the aviation giant expects passenger drones to hit the mainstream in under 10 years. Today’s event served as a staunch reminder that the landscape truly has changed, with a cooperative FAA and a substantial incentive to keep things domestic, a vastly more efficient relationship has been created, particularly with companies like Workhorse

Marco Margaritoff

The SureFly passenger drone.

The company began its application process with the FAA in June of this year, making the SureFly the first hybrid-electric VTOL multi-copter to garner that designation. Burns, at least, truly believes that the tides have turned for the better in recent months. “We are at a watershed moment as the worlds of alternative energy and transportation become further intertwined,” he said. “As more brands enter the space, having a strong marketing platform that lets workers know that Workhorse is a brand they can get behind, because we get behind them, is more important than ever.” 

The SureFly can reach speeds of up to 70 mph for up to two hours, and has eight independent carbon fiber propellers powered through a piston. It has a lithium-ion battery as backup, which would ensure safe landing in the potential, rare instances that the generator goes topside. To assuage your concerns even further, the drone has a ballistic parachute that works above 100 feet. So, worst case scenario, you're gently floating down to solid ground. 

Marco Margaritoff

The SureFly prototype's interior, sure to be refined before official release.

The dream, of course, is for various rooftops in cities like New York to have capable takeoff and landing pads where drones like the SureFly can easily deploy from and arrive. If all goes according to plan, we’ll get to see real people on actual aerial trips get taxied through the heavens with completely FAA-certified SureFly models in less than two years. The price is currently set at $200,000 per unit, which is frankly not as exorbitant as something as futuristic and tangible as this could go for. 

For now, it’s cathartic enough just to look at, touch, and dream about (while we still have to, of course). In a couple of years, though, the SureFly might be something you could actually consider purchasing. Stay tuned.

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