Alex Stone (left) and Daniel Preston (right) look on while Peter Stone sits at the controls of one of the helicopters that they are wrapping up to head to Oshkosh.
by Dave Warner
Luminati VTOL owner Daniel Preston and Peter Stone at PEMS Tool and Machine on Southern Avenue are getting ready to head out to the 2019 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in Wisconsin. If you don’t know what that is, it is the largest annual gathering of aviation enthusiasts. For seven days from sunrise to well past sunset, the Oshkosh day is filled with thrilling displays of aerobatics, informative programs and hands-on workshops, diverse aircraft spanning all eras of flight, evening programs, and more.
For Preston and Stone, it’s about showing off two of their latest one-man helicopters, one of which is powered by a 126 HP electric motor. That power gives the craft a very high power to weight ratio, approximately 20 HP per pound. For takeoff, that motor can create 180 HP. The batteries are lithium-ion and weigh 418 pounds and the helicopter itself weighs about 900 pounds.
With that overall aircraft weight, a 180-pound pilot and the power to weight ratio, the team expects to set a world endurance record by more than 50% over the current record. They are currently in the process of filing the appropriate paperwork, which will then allow them to attempt that record flight.
The design of the aircraft is based on the Gyrodyne XRON, which is the smaller version of the QH-50, which was the world’s first vertical take-off and landing unmanned aerial vehicle. The QH-50 was a classified Navy program for almost half a century and has more flight hours than any UAV ever made.
The core of the aircraft shown at the top of the story is one of the ones originally made for the Navy. PEMS is in the process of replicating all of the parts so that everything can be made locally in Little Falls. When they return from Oshkosh, they’ll be investing in new production equipment to continue that path and then training the people necessary to do the work.
The primary application for commercial versions of this craft is to perform duties as an air taxi, and Preston and Stone are eyeing that market. Initially, there were only 16 companies in the space. Now, it has grown to over 180 companies that are chasing this opportunity. However, the pair feels that there is only one other company that can compete with the kind of product that they have.
A big attraction is that U.S.-based ride-share group Uber has announced that it will be collaborating with multiple manufacturers and technology companies to develop an array of innovative aircraft that it hopes will expand the horizons of air transport and package delivery through its so-called Uber Elevate Network. What the prospective new aircraft have in common is that they would be electrically-powered and have vertical takeoff and landing capability.
According to Stone “We went to a flight seminar in Phoenix in January, and to go from one end of Los Angeles to the other for instance, takes 2 1/2 to 3 hours because of traffic. This seminar was talking about having electric helicopters traveling on highways in the air where these quiet electric vehicles will go back and forth, something like the Jetsons.”
“With this helicopter design, we eliminate the need for 30% of the power to go to a tail rotor, because we don’t need one. We can put all the juice upfront and hopefully we’ll be in the air longer than someone else,” said Stone.
Stone feels that with the presence at Oshkosh and if the breaking of the record, it will draw a significant amount of attention to the company and what they can build.
The helicopters created here can take either electric drives, piston engines, or turbines. Now that they have a final version of the aircraft, they will be taking orders at the show. The cost of the helicopter is anywhere from $300,000 to $2.4 million, depending on the configuration.