Workhorse Surefly Octocopter Will Make Its First Manned Flight at CES

The pint-sized copter is designed for manned and unmanned operations.

byStephen Edelstein|
Workhorse Surefly Octocopter Will Make Its First Manned Flight at CES


Apparently not satisfied with developing an electric pickup truck, electric delivery vans, and drones, Workhorse Group is cooking up a small helicopter. Called the SureFly, it was unveiled in June, but hasn't made a manned flight in public. That will happen for the first time at CES 2018 in January, Workhorse now says.

Workhorse wants to make the first flight during the annual Las Vegas electronics extravaganza on January 8, but says that date depends on factors like weather and regulatory approval from both the Federal Aviation Administration and local authorities. The flight will be just a demonstration, as some development and certification work remains to be done before the SureFly is ready for prime time.

The SureFly looks a bit like a Workhorse HorseFly drone that has been exposed to gamma radiation a la Bruce Banner. Its unorthodox eight-rotor design is supposed to make the vehicle safer to fly by providing added redundancy and protecting against the "death spin" that can occur when conventional helicopters lose power.

The octocopter is propelled by eight electric motors, one for each rotor. But it also features a 200-horsepower Honda gasoline engine which acts as a generator, much like the internal-combustion setup in a Chevrolet Volt. The SureFly is designed to use the gasoline engine as its primary source of electricity, but it does have an onboard battery pack as a backup.

The SureFly only has a top speed of top speed of 50 miles per hour and a maximum range of 70 miles, but Workhorse believes that will be adequate for real-world use. It predicts average flights will be no more than 10 miles. The company eventually wants to give the SureFly the ability to be flown autonomously like a giant drone, but it will be human-piloted initially. Workhorse wants to achieve full FAA certification by 2019.