Electric R44 Completes First Airport-to-airport Flight

 - October 31, 2022, 12:36 PM
An R44 helicopter powered entirely by an electric propulsion system flies over Coachella on the way to Palm Springs International Airport. (Photo: Tier 1 Engineering)

In a historic first, a fully electric-powered Robinson R44 helicopter flew from one airport to another. The 21-nm flight took place on Saturday at 11 a.m. local time from Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport in Thermal, California, to Palm Springs International Airport. The electric R44 flight was flown by OC Helicopters CEO Ric Webb and Martine Rothblatt, CEO of Lung Biotechnology parent company United Therapeutics.

Tier 1 Engineering and Lung Biotechnology are collaborating on the electric R44 project. The plan is to use electric-powered helicopters and eVTOLs for delivery of transplantable organs on short-distance flights from airports to hospitals after the organs are delivered by electric and sustainable-fuel-powered fixed-wing aircraft to airports near hospitals.

This version of the electric R44 is the third-generation design of the R44 electric-propulsion system. It features a quick-swap battery pack that can be changed in 15 minutes or charged in one hour. Plans call for FAA certification of the R44 electric-propulsion system and development of “newer energy cells” that will extend range to hundreds of miles, according to Rothblatt.

“Lung Biotechnology is committed to delivering life-saving transplantable organs with a zero-carbon footprint,” she said. “It is fully possible to save patients’ lives while ensuring a livable planet. Today’s historic inter-city electric helicopter flight demonstrates that many organ transport distances are doable with electric aircraft using today’s technology.”