Van builder Workhorse unveils hybrid helicopter

Workhorse Surefly helicopter

Sometimes building electric cars may be about more than building electric cars.

At an event in New York City last weekend, Workhorse, which is known for converting delivery vans to plug-in hybrid power, aimed a little higher. It revealed a hybrid helicopter, according to an Ars Technica report.

The company says it has reinvented the helicopter. Maybe what it has done is reinvent the drone.

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The helicopter, which Workhorse calls the Surefly, looks like a giant drone with a cockpit hanging below that’s big enough to hold two people and an engine.

Rather than a main blade and a tail rotor, it has eight smaller blades, each with its own motor, counter-rotating at the ends of four arms sprouting out the top of the copter.

Unlike a drone, the Surefly isn’t really electric. It relies on a gas engine (Workhorse hasn’t revealed specs), to provide electric power to the eight motors that spin its two-bladed carbon-fiber props at the end of each arm.

Workhorse Surefly helicopter

In case of an engine failure, the Surefly includes two 7.5-kwh lithium batteries good for 15 minutes of flight that are designed to allow the pilot to make an emergency landing. Failing that, there’s also a built-in parachute.

The machine weighs 1,100 pounds and can carry a pilot and a passenger or a pilot and cargo. The pilot flies the Surefly. It isn’t remote controlled like a drone.

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It has a top speed of 70 mph with an altitude ceiling of 4,000 feet. It can fly for an hour on a tank of gas.

Workhorse sees the Surefly as a crop duster or farming observation vehicle, for use by emergency responders, or even commuters. 

Workhorse Surefly helicopter cockpit

Workhorse is also testing a plug-in hybrid delivery van with a conventional drone built into the roof to carry packages from the truck to the front door.

The Ohio-based company has 120 employees, builds series-hybrid delivery vans and has plans to build a pickup truck. The Surefly is a direct outgrowth of its work building those trucks.

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