R44 Makes First Flight with MagniX Electric Propulsion

 - June 8, 2022, 11:33 AM
The first flight of an all-electric Robinson R44 using MagniX electric propulsion on June 4. (Photo: Tier 1 Engineering)

Tier 1 Engineering conducted the first flight of an all-electric Robinson R44 using the MagniX electric propulsion unit (EPU). The three-minute flight took place June 4 at the Los Alamitos Army Airfield in Southern California. Tier 1 integrated its battery system and the MagniX EPU on the helicopter, which is being developed for Lung Biotechnology PBC, a biotech company that is focused on alleviating the shortage of transplantable human organs. 

"This historic flight, of an all-electric helicopter with a certifiable electric engine, was an important step towards obtaining aircraft certification. We are excited to expand the flight tests to greater distances and demonstrate safe, reliable all-electric flight," said Tier 1 president Glen Dromgoole. Tier 1 is working with the Los Angeles FAA Aircraft Certification Office (ACO) on the “e-R44” project to obtain a supplemental type certificate for the conversion program. Lung Biotechnology PBC plans to acquire a fleet of the aircraft to fly transplant organs.

Engine supplier MagniX has been powering all-electric aircraft since December 2019. The company’s electric motors have been flown on fixed-wing aircraft including the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan and DHC-2 Beaver and it has been selected to power larger aircraft under development including a hydrogen-fueled, 40-seat Dash 8, Faradair’s 18-passenger Beha, and the nine-seat Eviation Alice. The company is based in Redmond, Washington.  

Tier 1 first flew an all-electric R44 in 2016 using a 1,100-pound lithium-polymer battery pack and twin electric motors from Rinehart Motion Systems. Other all-electric helicopters flew as early as 2010 with Sikorsky's Firefly project.