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Autonomous helicopter demonstrated

by Marco van der Hoeven

Rotor recently hosted an event featuring New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, showcasing the first live flight test of its autonomous helicopters. The event also included a tour of Rotor’s new Research & Development Center and a naming ceremony for the R550X prototype. Attended by Rotor staff, their families, and invited VIPs, the event took place at the company’s facilities, which are situated on the historical site of Daniel Webster College.

The demonstration involved the R220Y, an uncrewed aircraft based on the Robinson R22 helicopter. This flight occurred at Nashua Airport around 2:30 pm ET on January 30, 2024, with approximately 100 people in attendance. The R220Y performed a series of maneuvers, including a full startup, hovering, turning, and landing, totaling about three minutes of air time. This event is noted as the first public flight of an uncrewed full-scale helicopter by Rotor.

In addition to the flight demonstration, the event highlighted Rotor’s efforts in the field of aviation technology. Governor Sununu interacted with Rotor’s engineering team at the Remote Operation Center, reflecting a collaboration between the state and the company. The event concluded with the naming of the R550X prototype as “Spirit of New Hampshire,” announced by Rotor CEO Hector Xu, and a celebratory moment with Governor Sununu.

Rotor is currently building the first two R550X helicopters at its Nashua facility. These aircraft, which are expected to commence agricultural flights later in the year, are based on the Robinson R44 Raven II and designed for heavy lifting without a pilot. With a payload capacity of up to 1,212 lbs (550 kg), over three hours of flight time, and a top speed of 150 miles per hour, the R550X is positioned to expand the capabilities of VTOL technology.

Rotor has created numerous high-tech jobs in New Hampshire and plans to establish new departments in manufacturing, quality control, sales, and engineering to support the R550X program. The company acknowledged the FAA, Nashua Airport Authority, and New Hampshire Department of Transportation for their support in facilitating the flight.

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