Electric helicopter

May 8, 2011 by Tim McAdams

Several companies are building electric powered ultralight airplanes and motor gliders. And in July of 2010, Cessna announced it was developing an electrically-powered 172 as a proof-of-concept platform. However, the high power to weight requirement for hovering makes building an electrically-powered helicopter a difficult challenge. Even so, at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) AirVenture exhibition Sikorsky Innovations, the technology development organization of Sikorsky Aircraft, introduced “Project Firefly,” an all-electric helicopter technology demonstrator. 

In building the demonstrator, the Innovations team replaced the S-300C’s Lycoming 190-horsepower, 4-cylinder gasoline engine with an electric motor and two battery packs located on each side of the pilot producing about 370 volts. Integrated sensors provide real-time aircraft health information including temperature for left and right battery packs, flight time remaining and voltage on a panel mounted LCD monitor. The demonstrator features a 190-horsepower electric motor that weighs 180 lbs, and a battery system that weighs 1,100 lbs. Power output is the same as with the original piston engine, but because of the heavy weight of the lithium-ion batteries the empty weight is close to 2,050-pounds leaving just enough payload for a single pilot.

Nevertheless, Sikorsky expects the Firefly will have the same flight characteristics (including an 86-knot top speed) as the S-300C. Benefits include higher efficiency, less complexity and lower vibrations. With the current battery pack the expected flight time is 12 to15 minutes (the piston version goes 3.7 hrs on 32 gallons of fuel). According to Sikorsky, as battery technologies get better this will improve exponentially. First flight is anticipated in mid 2011.


  • Kris Sundberg

    .2 hours electric v. 3.7 hours on gas (not to mention weight penalty) means battery technology needs to improve exponentially.

  • http://AviationeBrief Lee Ferguson

    I am currently in the process of developing the next battery storage system, one that will make this product fly for hours. Good luck on the weight of these lithium-ion paper weights.

  • Thomas Boyle

    That motor seems awfully heavy for the power output. Gasoline engines can do 1lb/hp – an electric motor should do much, much better.

  • Tom Wright

    Everything has a starting place.

  • Norbert hart

    Why can’t the electric motor be powered by a generator and regulated by a control unit for the outputand leave the battery for startup and emergency power? That would eliminate alot. The generator could be connected to the mast which would reduce weight and a simple planet hearring would make it easier to connect.

  • Hunter

    Norbert, that would be less efficient that the traditional engine setup.

  • Dave Osborne

    @Norbert, The generator would require kinetic energy from the rotor system to supply power to the electric motor. A chain-reaction, perpetual energy system would be cool (where the spinning rotor generates electricity, which is fed to the motor, which spins the rotor, which generates electricity,…), but it’s just not possible because the generator and motor would be robbing so much torque from itself. It’s like robbing Peter to pay Peter.

    The resistance caused by the tail rotor transmission, bearings, drag on the blades, etc. is too great to overcome while also trying to power itself.

  • HRPufnstuf

    Wow! 12-15 minutes!

    That’s enough to power up, hover, check everything out, get clearance from the tower, taxi out to the runway and….. crash.

    I wonder if there’s an air conditioner equipped model? 4 minutes maybe? Tops?

  • Terry Ketron, CFI-I

    Don’t forget folks… the first airplane flight was less than a minute… but it was a terrific step in the development of the airplanes we fly today. Giv’em a break.

  • http://accurateelectricanaheim.com/ Anaheim Electrical Services

    It is a good start. High Technology really is everywhere. I learned something from this blog. Please keep posting on new updates. I’d really love to read more on this electric helicopter.

  • http://www.helicopterlicensecenter.com Helicopter License

    Wow, knowing that engineers are focused on developing an electric helicopter (and all aviation for that matter), is a great sign that we’re moving technology in the right direction. Wtih only 12 minutes of battery power, they certainly have their work cut out for them. But as a green person and a helicopter enthusiast, I will appluad this ambition. Oh, and thanks for writing about it!

  • http://www.helicopterlicenses.com Helicopter Licenses

    Will electric helicopters cause less harm to the environment? I think so. Perhaps the trend is set to this direction!

  • http://www.helicopter-pilot-jobs.com/ Helicopter Pilot Jobs

    Looking forward to the Firefly!

  • http://helicopters-for-sale.org Dan

    It’s quit impresive,

    Does it already working?
    What is the time line?

  • http://helicopters-for-sale.org helicopters for sale

    In case it is working,

    I think it’s amazing, I will probably will take a tour on that kind of helicopters,

    I hope they will be safe helicopters and thier price will be too high

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