Aerospace & Defence

The largest autonomous helicopter enters production

4th December 2023
Paige West

Rotor Technologies, Inc. has announced the launch and commencement of production for the R550X, currently the largest uncrewed civilian helicopter available.

Based on the design of the Robinson R44 Raven II, the R550X is an unmanned helicopter capable of carrying heavy loads up to 1,200 pounds (approximately 550 kilograms). It operates without a pilot and has a flight duration exceeding three hours and a maximum speed of 150mph. These features make the R550X ideal for intensive applications in cargo, utility, and maritime operations, surpassing the capabilities of traditional drones and eVTOLs.

Equipped with advanced sensors and digital flight control systems, the R550X can autonomously and safely navigate various environments, including night-time and low-visibility conditions. The helicopter's software is designed to mitigate common helicopter accidents, addressing risks such as inadvertent entry into instrument meteorological conditions (I-IMC), vortex ring state, mast bumping, loss of control, and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT).

Rotor CEO Hector Xu emphasised the significant advantages the R550X brings: “The R550X is going to bring huge safety and economic benefits to a wide range of helicopter use cases. Demonstrating the impact of autonomy in dangerous missions like crop dusting and aerial firefighting is the first step towards our vision for safe and accessible vertical flight.”

Classified as an experimental-category uncrewed aircraft, the R550X is not intended for human transport. Operators can utilise existing FAA guidelines to deploy the R550X in various sectors such as agriculture, firefighting, inspection, and maritime activities.

Following the receipt of Letters of Intent (LOIs) from agricultural aircraft operators, who intend to use the R550X for crop dusting, Rotor has started producing two units at its New Hampshire facilities. "We have a number of agricultural customers who want to start operating the R550X as soon as possible, and this demand is driving us to begin production immediately," said Ben Frank, Rotor's Chief Commercial Officer.

The R550X is set to begin its first commercial operations in the United States in 2024, with plans to expand to international markets subsequently.

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