Rotor & Wing International
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Storing Power

From new batteries to new VTOL R&D, engineers and visionaries are looking for options for high-specific-energy storage and generation.

Electric power for vertical flight is captivating more members of the helicopter and powerplant segments and researchers.

The challenge in pushing the electric power envelope lies in developing systems that can manage energy in a sufficient density and low enough weight to make in-flight use advantageous.

True Blue Power in July gained FAA type certification for use of its TB17 lithium-ion, engine-start battery on Robinson Helicopter’s R66. It also received a supplement type certificate for the TB17's use on the R44. The 17-amp-hour TB17 is standard on Bell Helicopter’s 505 Jet Ranger X.

A division of Mid-Continent Instruments and Avionics, True Blue has been pursuing advanced electric-power options since at least 2012. That year, it struck a deal with A123 systems for use of what it calls nano-phosphate lithium-ion phosphate systems, which are built using nanometer (or micron-scale) particles.

True Blue Power in July gained FAA supplemental type certificate for use of its TB17 lithium-ion, engine-start battery on Robinson Helicopter’s R66 and R44.Photo courtesy of True Blue Power

The Mid-Continent unit said these batteries have a big weight savings over lead-acid and nickel-cadmium ones. It said the R66 battery weighs 16 pounds, compared to 42 pounds for that helicopter’s standard battery and 52 pounds for its optional high-capacity one.

But such batteries may be just the beginning. Under NASA’s umbrella, a multi-disciplinary group of industry and government researchers since 2014 have been delving into options for innovative aircraft. Through several annual workshops, they have come to be known as the Transformational Vertical Flight working groups and the roadmap developed to guide their work includes “electric power management and distribution.”

The groups have split their work up into four areas: private and recreational vehicles, commercial intra-city vehicles, commercial inter-city vehicles and public services, such as search and rescue, law enforcement, medevac, emergency/humanitarian work and military missions. RWI

Correction — This article has been edited to clarify that True Blue Power had received an FAA type certification for use of its TB17 battery on Robinson's R66, not the R44.