Tier 1 Engineering 3rd gen. electric helicopter achieves a historic airport-to-airport cross-country flight 75 years after historic English Channel crossing.
Santa Ana, CA, October 29, 2022 - Tier 1 Engineering, in cooperation with its collaborator Lung Biotechnology PBC, announced today it had successfully completed a flight between Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport, near Coachella, and Palm Springs International Airport on October 29, 2022 at 1100 PST, the first helicopter flight between airfields solely by electric power. The flight from Jacqueline Cochran to Palm Springs equals the 21nm distance of the first commercial helicopter flight across the English Channel on September 25, 1947. The all-electric aircraft is a modified Robinson R44 helicopter flown by pilots Ric Webb of OC Helicopters and Martine Rothblatt of Lung Biotechnology.
Glen Dromgoole, President of Tier 1 Engineering, said, "Progress in the development of all-electric propulsion is similar to other periods of significant advance in aviation. The first aircraft flew short distances and many people were afraid to ride in the new flying machines. At the start of the Jet Age, there was widespread skepticism about the commercial viability of the turbine engine. Today’s historic flight demonstrates the potential of all-electric rotorcraft and we are thrilled by this achievement."
The e-R44 uses a novel quick-swap technology for its helicopter battery packs to enable return trip flights without waiting for a recharge. The time required to swap a battery pack is 15 minutes vs 1 hour for a full recharge. The specific cross-country route for today’s historic flight was chosen based upon FAA approval.
"These flights are the building blocks that lay the foundation where our future can continue to soar. I am excited and honored to be part of this amazing team, this historic event and furthering the advancement of making blue skies green™," said pilot Ric Webb, CEO of Part 135 helicopter operator OC Helicopters, which is planning to offer organ delivery services via the electric R44.
Dr. Martine Rothblatt, one of the helicopter’s pilots and the CEO for of parent company United Therapeutics Corporation, said "Lung Biotechnology is committed to delivering life-saving transplantable organs with a zero-carbon footprint. 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. We are committed to achieving FAA certification of this electric helicopter and to using newer energy cells to extend our ranges to hundreds of miles in the next few years," concluded Dr. Rothblatt.
The 3rd Generation all-electric e-R44 is designed to deliver manufactured organs for transplant by United Therapeutics, the biotechnology company responsible for the world’s first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human patient, and for creating the world’s first full-size 3D bio-printed organs. United Therapeutics plans to use electric and sustainable aviation fueled fixed-wing aircraft to deliver transplantable organs long distances to airports and then to use the electric helicopters and eVTOLs for the shorter hops such as from the airports to the transplant hospitals. In October 2021, Unither Bioelectronics, a United Therapeutics subsidiary, accomplished the world’s first delivery of a lung for transplant by electric drone between two hospitals in downtown Toronto.