Sikorsky Innovations, the technology development arm of Sikorsky Aircraft, revealed last week at the Farnborough International Air show and this week at AirVenture 2010, the Firefly™ Technology Demonstration Aircraft, the first all-electric helicopter.
Based on an S-300C, the electrified version replaces the original Lycoming drive train with a U.S. Hybrid power package consisting of a 200 horsepower electric motor, motor controller, and 1,100-pound lithium- battery from Gaia. To monitor operations and “the health” of the craft, Sikorsky has installed an LCD display in the modified center console.
One benefit of electrified helicopters would be the discarding of the traditional complex series of mechanical links between the main rotor power takeoff and the tail rotor. The tail rotor on Firefly can be powered by small electric motor linked to the main rotor’s speed output signal.
The battery pack’s high weight will allow only 15 minutes of flight at first.
“Our objectives with Project Firefly are to provide a proof of principle concept to validate the benefits of an electrically powered rotorcraft; to develop the technologies to enable the manned flight of that technology, and to drive future development of improved, state-of-the-art ‘green’ technologies and practices,” said Chris Van Buiten, Director of Sikorsky Innovations.
Noting the depletion of world fuel reserves and “spiraling fuel costs,” Mark Miller, Vice President, Sikorsky Research & Engineering, noted, “Many of the most significant advancements in aviation have been enabled by transformations in propulsion technology. It is exciting to be at the forefront of the exploration of electric propulsion technology for rotorcraft.
Miller added, “Through the electrical conversion, propulsion efficiency of the aircraft has been increased roughly 300 percent from baseline. Electric propulsion also inherently simplifies the complexity of the propulsion system by reducing the quantity of moving parts, increasing reliability while reducing direct operating costs.
“With current energy storage technology, payload and endurance will fall short of typical helicopter performance. These values will grow as rapidly maturing technology is integrated on the demonstrator.”