Southern California technology startup, Skyryse, aims to revolutionize the cost and safety of helicopter instrument flight rules (IFR) operations by certifying an IFR-capable version of the Robinson R66 helicopter.
Skyryse plans to equip the R66 with its proprietary FlightOS system and hopes to complete the certification process within the next 18 months. The company believes that this new product will significantly reduce acquisition and operating costs, making IFR rotorcraft more affordable and accessible.
Historically, commercial single-engine IFR helicopters have been prohibitively expensive to certify, leading to a decrease in safety as pilots resorted to “scud running” (flying low and close to clouds) to avoid adverse weather conditions. The FAA’s stringent certification standards required rotorcraft to demonstrate an extremely improbable failure rate, comparable to multi-engine aircraft. This led to a decline in IFR helicopter operations and an increase in accidents resulting from low-altitude flight.
However, in recent years, the FAA has introduced safety continuum measures, making it easier to certify safety-enhancing technologies for normal category rotorcraft. The U.S. Navy’s requirement for IFR capability in the TH-73 training helicopter competition also motivated manufacturers to pursue IFR certification for single-engine helicopters. Skyryse believes that their drop-in fly-by-wire FlightOS system, which replaces conventional flight controls with a touchscreen tablet and joystick, will streamline the certification process for the R66.
By developing a highly automated touchscreen flight control system, Skyryse aims to improve the safety of visual flight rules (VFR) operations and increase accessibility to IFR flight. The company is already targeting 10-9 reliability for FlightOS, ensuring the necessary redundancy for IFR flight. Furthermore, the removal of equipment associated with mechanical flight controls creates space for additional redundant systems. Skyryse has partnered with Air Methods to retrofit over 400 single-engine helicopters and airplanes with FlightOS.
Although Skyryse has gained FAA acceptance of its means of compliance, it must still undergo extensive ground and flight testing to obtain full certification. The simplified vehicle operations (SVO) concept, exemplified by FlightOS, may also lead to changes in pilot certification requirements, reducing the burden of training while maintaining safety standards.