Home » This Startup Wants To Make Flying A Helicopter Like Playing A Video Game

This Startup Wants To Make Flying A Helicopter Like Playing A Video Game

Skyryse One 004 Ts1
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If you consume local news, you’ve probably seen the stories before. While commercial aviation remains one of the safest ways to travel, there are over a thousand general aviation accidents each year. Some of these accidents add to the few hundred general aviation fatalities each year. A common cause of fatal accidents in general aviation is visual flight into instrument conditions. Some pilots end up flying perfectly operable aircraft into terrain. California startup Skyryse wants to change that, starting with helicopters. Its Robinson R66-based Skyryse One deletes common helicopter controls for touchscreens, a joystick, and triple-redundant automation. The chopper can even land itself in an emergency.

Simplifying the flying experience has been all of the rage in aviation over recent years. Countless startup companies are trying to sell electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft of various sizes. Other companies are trying to build air taxis and automated flying machines. Many of these concepts and prototypes have a focus on simplifying the controls of an aircraft.

Vidframe Min Top
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Pivotal

For example, earlier this year I wrote about the launch of the Pivotal Helix (above), an ultralight eVTOL that you can fly without a pilot license. The Helix uses a control stick and software to simplify the flying experience.

The idea of making aviation safer and easier isn’t a new concept. You may remember my story on the stylish Ercoupe, the plane sold by department stores in the 1940s. The aircraft was marketed as being as easy to fly as a car was to drive:

Runwayercoupe 2

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That aircraft featured control wheels that manipulated a linked system that moved the ailerons and the rudders. Turn the wheel left, and the aircraft turns its rudder left for a coordinated turn. Linking the rudders to the wheels eliminated the need for rudder pedals. The aircraft was further designed to prevent stalls, spins, and had brakes operated like a car’s brakes. An Ercoupe’s engine was also intentionally mounted slightly crooked to eliminate the turning tendency known as P-Factor.

So, trying to stop pilots from binning their aircraft is hardly a new thing. Nowadays, the tricks to keep an aircraft flying aren’t through mechanical linkages and crooked engines, but through software. Those little eVTOLs aren’t getting the only attention, either.

Since 2019, helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky has been experimenting with automation by replacing the manual collective, cyclic, and pedal controls with a tablet, software, and inceptors (sometimes called sidesticks and centersticks). Since 2023, Airbus has been experimenting with simplifying controls using software and a stick with its FlightLab helicopter.

However, the Sikorsky project is not a production helicopter and Airbus is using its helicopter as a testbed for technology destined for upcoming eVTOLs. I spoke with Jalopnik legend Ray Wert, the VP of Communications & Marketing at Skyryse.

Skyryse One 003 Wideangle

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Wert tells me the Skyryse One simplifies the flying experience, but it’s not just a testbed; you’ll likely be able to pilot a production Skyryse One next year. So, let’s see what you’ll be getting.

Helicopters Simplified

Wert tells me that there’s a wide gap in aviation right now. As of 2019 there were roughly 487,200 licensed general aviation pilots in the United States. That’s a lot of people who can fly a plane. How many people in America can fly a helicopter? Roughly 15,000 people. Skyryse believes that part of the reason is the complexity of a rotorcraft. While the most basic controls of something fixed-wing like a Cessna 172 involve rudder pedals, yokes, and a throttle, a rotorcraft has a collective, cyclic, and pedals.

The collective changes the pitch angle of the rotor blades while the cyclic controls the main rotor to control the directional movement of the helicopter. Meanwhile, the pedals manipulate the tail rotor’s thrust, achieving a somewhat similar result that a rudder pedal does on a fixed-wing aircraft. Of course, there’s also a throttle and other controls, but Skyryse believes that typical helicopter controls, which have been largely unchanged for several decades, don’t need to be a full-body experience.

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FOX 52

Skyryse was founded by Mark Groden in Southern California in 2016 with the mission of reducing general aviation deaths as close to zero as possible. It has spent the time since brewing up its SkyOS system, software and controls that take as much of the hard work out of flying a helicopter as possible.

The Skyryse One starts as a Robinson R66, a single-engine light turbine helicopter known for its relative affordability. Yes, we’re talking about a chopper that still costs a million dollars, so we aren’t talking “affordable” in the traditional sense, here.

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Polk County R66 4375 Scaled E166
Robinson Helicopter Company

Anyway, for more than a decade, the R66 has been a hot seller in part because it is one of the cheapest ways into a new turbine helicopter. Buyers get a Rolls-Royce RR300 Turbine good for 300 shaft HP, derated to 270 SHP for takeoff and 224 SHP continuous power. It’s a helicopter that seats five and has a 917-pound payload with a full fuel load.

The Skyryse One looks like a regular R66 on the outside, but the cabin is totally different. Here’s a standard R66 panel with a Garmin G500H.

Garmin 500 Side View2
Robinson Helicopter Company

Now, take a look at the Skyryse One with its SkyOS system. The panel is reduced to two tablet screens. And the collective, cyclic, and pedals? Those are gone, replaced by a four-axis control stick.

Screens2

One of the benefits touted by Skyryse is that its SkyOS system reduces the bulk of a panel. While this may not be such a big deal with the large greenhouse of a Robinson R66, Skyryse sees its technology trickling into other helicopters and even into fixed-wing aircraft. I sometimes need a booster cushion to see well over the panels of some Cessna 172s, so I like the idea of compact panels.

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As of right now, Skyryse isn’t talking much about what you’ll find on those two screens, but it looks like you’re getting all of the vitals you would otherwise find on a standard panel. However, Wert did tell me that SkyOS and those touchscreens do simplify your experience. For example, you’ll be able to start the helicopter’s engine simply by swiping an icon on the screen. Engine shutdown works the same. In one of the promotional shots, you can see the iPhone-like engine shutdown slider.

Screens

The automation doesn’t end there. Wert tells me that you’ll be able to swipe to lift off or swipe to touch down. SkyOS can also cover hover functions and can land the helicopter in the event of an emergency. You’ll still have full control of the helicopter, but SkyOS will automatically put the chopper into autorotation and handle glide, flare, and set-down. You will just need to steer the helicopter to a safe place to land.

The automation brought on by SkyOS also means that you can let go of the controls and the computer will ensure the helicopter stays in a safe envelope.

Skyryse One 002 Control Stick Closeup

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Meanwhile, the four-axis stick simplifies the flight controls into something perhaps closer to the controls of a helicopter from a video game. Again, SkyOS is there to prevent you from putting the helicopter into danger and it’s there to make sure the helicopter always remains stable. The idea is that you’re in command, but the chopper will try its hardest to keep you from kissing terrain.

One big feature that Wert touted is the fact that the Skyryse One will be fully certified for Instrument Flight Rules, and the price of the Skyryse One will make it half of the price of a typical IFR-certified helicopter.

Wert compared SkyOS and the fly-by-wire stick to the systems and controls you’ll find in a fighter jet or on the flight deck of an Airbus airliner. Like a commercial airliner, the Skyryse One has backup and Skyryse says it has triple-redundant systems to ensure a safe flying experience.

Skyryse One 001 Hero

Skyryse is quick to clarify that this is not a self-flying or autonomous helicopter, just one that should make flying much easier and thus open the skies for more helicopter pilots. Skyryse even put Ray Wert — someone who isn’t a helicopter pilot — up into one of its test helicopters to show how the system simplifies flying. As I noted before, putting SkyOS into a Robinson is just the start. Maybe one day we’ll see a Cessna with this technology.

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Pilots of the Skyryse One will require a private pilot certificate. If you do not already have a helicopter rating, you’ll likely be able to get one with a Skyryse One. However, your rating will essentially restrict you to the Skyryse One, locking you out of any helicopter with conventional controls. That’s not a new thing. People who learned to fly in an Ercoupe received ratings that locked them out of planes with conventional rudder pedals.

Skyryse One 004 Profile Lr

If you’re excited, Skyryse is now taking $2,500 refundable reservations on its website. That locks you into an introductory price of $1.8 million. Yes, that is a ton of money and might be one of the most expensive things I’ve ever written about on this site. A regular Robinson R66 runs a touch over $1.1 million. However, Skyryse believes it’ll find buyers in people who want a safer helicopter and those who want a more cost-effective IFR helicopter.

If you put in a reservation, you’ll be able to fly in Skyryse’s simulator at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this July. The company is expecting to take its first deposits around that time. Skyryse is expecting FAA certification sometime next year with deliveries starting soon after. I’ll definitely be watching to see where this goes and maybe trying this out for myself.

(Images: Skyryse, unless otherwise noted.)

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Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
1 month ago

But which video game? If it’s Battlefield 3, no thanks I’ll take the traditional controls, they are more intuitive.

Ben
Ben
1 month ago

Roughly 15,000 people. Skyryse believes that part of the reason is the complexity of a rotorcraft.

Maybe, but I suspect it’s a fairly small part. It’s not like flying a plane is a simple thing to do either. My largely-uninformed opinion is that there are a lot more practical uses for a regular pilot’s license, whereas recreational use of a helicopter makes a lot less sense. A private plane can help you travel long distances in a fairly short period of time, without dealing with TSA. Are people hopping in helicopters and flying to exotic locations? I suspect not. Helicopters are much more work-focused – police and news agencies use them for surveillance, tour guides use them for tours, various people use them to haul heavy things in and out of awkward locations. None of those things scream “hobbyist” to me.

But being able to fly from your local podunk airport to Chicago for lunch? Yeah, I can see the appeal of that (I haven’t done it myself, but we paid a pilot friend of mine to fly my dad to Chicago for his birthday once because he’s always loved small planes and airports).

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
1 month ago

It’s not like SUPER related to this specific product, but there is a reason a pilote’s license is very expensive and takes quite some time to get, and have to be renewed at intervals. Also the reason why regular people will never have flying cars, or people drones or whatever you could call them:

You are moving in many dimensions at once! Or at least three..

When you drive a car, it almost goes in a straight line all by itself, so you only have to correct a bit left/right, or make turns, so it is close to one dimensional control, moving it a bit from side to side, when it’s in movement.

If there are others on the road, you control the second dimension a bit not to crash in to the one in front of you, or stop at a red light. Pretty easy too.

You have no control over the third dimension really, it’s just where the road or terrain takes you.

Out sailing a boat, you have no asphalt to have your tires friction stuck to, so steering is a bit harder, taking currents, winds and waves into consideration. Also no handbrake, so you can’t stop dead unless you are moored. But it’s still only in two dimensions. Usually plenty of space to do your steering, unless you are in a tight harbour space at very slow speeds, so very seldom goes wrong.

And how about flying then? It is all of the above 😉

DadBod
DadBod
1 month ago

I remember seeing a report where the FAA flatly stated there will never be flying cars because people can’t drive regular cars without killing each other.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
1 month ago
Reply to  DadBod

Yeah, that’s the elevator pitch way of putting it 😀

DadBod
DadBod
1 month ago

Helicopter related: do yourself a favor and find a copy of Chickenhawk, written by an absolute maniac flying choppers in Vietnam.

Framed
Framed
1 month ago

Not a pilot here, and I appreciate the critiques of the system with regard to redundancy and dealing with unexpected wind, etc.. However the simplification of flight controls seems analogous to how cars have gotten much simpler to operate. Model T: crank start, manual spark advance, manual transmission, non-synchronized gears, etc. Modern car: push button start, not much else to do but steer, gas, brake. It’s hard for me to see how making the user interface simpler is a bad thing by itself.

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
1 month ago

Pop-up on screen:
We’ve been trying to reach you about your extended chopper warranty

BMW Chopper:
To continue, you must buy a subscription

Ford Chopper:
If you’re reading this, you’re already dead

Bill
Bill
1 month ago

Helicopters act like they really want to get back on the ground and are not too fussy how they do it.

Use should be restricted to skilled pilots in very specific and limited circumstances, the opposite of what this company is doing.

Phuzz
Phuzz
1 month ago
Reply to  Bill

Helicopters don’t fly, they beat the air into submission.

notoriousDUG
notoriousDUG
1 month ago

Maybe I am just old and scared of new things but as somebody who has flown a large helicopter with a level of proficiency, I would classify as ‘able to land without dying’ this is a terrifying system and I would not fly in one.

There are so many unpredictable and weird conditions that happen when you fly a helicopter; just the ground resonance and effective transitional lift issues that you pass through just leaving the ground and transitioning from hover to flight is A LOT to deal with. Add in a crosswind or any kind of other outside influence and shit can get weird and wildly unpredictable FAST.

Cryptoenologist
Cryptoenologist
1 month ago
Reply to  notoriousDUG

I’ve flown a helicopter in a simulator- and every single flight ended about 10 seconds in with vomit inducing 360° spins and hitting the ground.

notoriousDUG
notoriousDUG
1 month ago

All flights end in hitting the ground.

It’s how hard you hit that matters.

SNL-LOL Jr
SNL-LOL Jr
1 month ago

Pfft can software do this?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugINFxMKRnU

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
1 month ago

Counterpoint. This is a bad idea, because if the prevalence of touchscreens in cars has taught us anything (well some of use knew already) it’s that haptic feedback and muscle memory are critical in maintaining visual and spatial awareness when controlling a vehicle. It’s bad enough in two dimensions, let alone increasing it to three.
Difficult to operate aircraft should remain difficult to operate, so the incompetent don’t get access to them.

notoriousDUG
notoriousDUG
1 month ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

There is also the fact that unless there are redundant controls, controls you would need to know how to fly a traditional helicopter to operate, if this system hiccups you are going to die.

Wuffles Cookie
Wuffles Cookie
1 month ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Happily, aviation regulations are a lot more strict regarding pilot controls interface design than any automotive regulations. Looking at the promotional materials, I can tell you straight away this proposed design violates the unholy shit out of:

14 CFR 23 Subpart G 23.2600:
(a) “perform any maneuvers…without excessive concentration, altertness, skill, or fatigue” primary flight controls as touchscreen fail this hard, see FAA AC 20-175.
(b) “The system and equipment design must minimize flightcrew errors, which could result in additional hazards.” Again, touchscreens fail this hard, see FAA AC 20-175 once more(it’s the “fuck your touchscreen BS” memo).

14 CFR 23 Subpart G 23.2605:
(a) “Each item of installed equipment related to the flightcrew interface must be labelled, if applicable, as to it identification, function, or operating limitations, or any combination of these factors.” The example they use of the off switch- shutting down a turbine engine is more complex than swiping “off” on your fucking iPad, and doing it under the wrong circumstances in the wrong way can kill you, your passengers, and innocent bystanders.
(b) “There must be a discernible means of providing system operating parameters required to operate the airplane, including warnings, cautions, and normal indications to the responsible crewmember.” I happen to know for a fact the R66 control panel is already at the absolute minimum size to meet this FAR, as discussed in FAA AC 20-88A (this is the “how small can you make important gauges” memo). The fact that they made it smaller ipso facto is a violation.

… I can continue for every section of Subpart G. They violate all of it. None of these are new ideas, in my work I’ve seen them all proposed and all wisely shot the fuck down.

Oh, and your system is not “triple redundant” when the failure of one single monitor means you are totally fucked.

All of these startups trying to “revolutionize” flying should really try employing some actual aerospace engineers.

Last edited 1 month ago by Wuffles Cookie
Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 month ago

Just remember the video controller didn’t work so well on the submarine. I guess design and software okay but I want a better build quality

Hgrunt
Hgrunt
1 month ago

I’ve posed the question “Why hasn’t someone Airbus’d a helicopter?” to a friend who’s a heli pilot who flies an Airbus heli with traditional controls. The answer I got was long and complicated, but his general take was: The flight envelope can quickly change

My take is: I think it’s possible with modern technology, but there hasn’t been a particular need for it so nobody’s done it

It’s been possible since the 90s. The Light Helicopter eXperimental (aka LHX…it wasn’t just a DOS game) was a fly-by-wire composite-bodied copter designed for the military by McDonnell Douglas and Bell. The program ended up getting canned because each heli would have been far too expensive as a whole

Wuffles Cookie
Wuffles Cookie
1 month ago
Reply to  Hgrunt

Airbus makes helicopters- they are in fact one of the biggest manufacturers of helicopters. They have not made a pilot controls layout like the one in the article because (a) it’s not allowed under regulations due to (b) it’s fucking stupid and will kill a lot of people. Your friend’s long and complicated answer is correct, this proposed design might work under ideal conditions, but will rapidly lead to disaster under anything non-ideal. What happens if, for example, that top screen were to fail? There isn’t enough room for your critical flight displays and controls to be present on the bottom screen, you’d be up a certain creek sans paddle.

(Also, the Airbus ideal of control schemes is quietly undergoing a substantial amount of revision due to the AF447 crash and a number of serious “manual reversion” incidents, so no, you won’t get video game controls on your airliner any time soon)

Phuzz
Phuzz
1 month ago
Reply to  Hgrunt

I’ve got a mate who flew Airbus choppers, and they do have some features that make flying and managing them easier, but the pilots rarely used them. Not because they didn’t work, but because they weren’t that useful for the type of flying the were doing (air ambulance). eg, they rarely did long transit flights, so they didn’t use the autopilot much.

Cerberus
Cerberus
1 month ago

One of my less obvious memories of 9/11 was the striking quiet of the skies (and lack of contrails). I don’t think we need more noise and more filthy engines spewing emissions into the atmosphere in order to disrupt the airspace so that barely qualified millionaires can cosplay pilot while trusting an algorithm written by the same kinds of people who can’t make cars drive themselves properly to keep these things from falling out of the sky onto whatever populated area these are likely to be used around. Why do we want more people flying helicopters, anyway? Besides search and rescue, which requires real pilots, what is the need?

Aaron
Aaron
1 month ago
Reply to  Cerberus

Why do we want more people flying helicopters, anyway?

I can see a case for this. Making easier to fly helicopters would lower the bar for search and rescue, medivac, surveying, remote area access, and crop dusting. This would make these things theoretically less costly as there would be a wider pool of pilots and they could be more readily cross trained with the mission objective skills. That said, you’re probably right that this will basically end up being a toy for rich d-bags who already make too much noise and pollution.

Cerberus
Cerberus
1 month ago
Reply to  Aaron

I don’t know how well these would work as trainers for full helicopter license or if it will be a separate tier that’s pretty much removed from the normal licensing, but if they could be used as a license step, then yeah, it would be a good thing as I’m sure there isn’t a surplus of available pilots for search and rescue or similar. For the actual work of search and rescue and similar, I think that’s far more difficult and would require someone with more control over the aircraft.

Aaron
Aaron
1 month ago
Reply to  Cerberus

I wouldn’t suspect this would be used for the cases where the Coast Guard has to hover over a boat deck in heavy seas. But in the instances where an eye in the sky is needed to find a lost backpacker or something, a lower barrier to entry helo option could help. I’ve also seen this in reference to autonomous E-VTOLs, but something like this would make it easier for someone with subject matter expertise in another area to get their helo certification and do whatever surveying they need to do without roping in a specialist pilot.

Cerberus
Cerberus
1 month ago
Reply to  Aaron

Yeah, that’s a good point. Though I imagine a drone could do much of that as well, a pair of human eyes can sometimes be better.

Steve Lee
Steve Lee
1 month ago

Bell has been working on 525 FBW certification for almost 10 years now, and I’m expected to believe a startup is going to be able to get this done?

Steve Lee
Steve Lee
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Lee

Nevermind…they’re piggybacking on the original R66 cert, which is way easier than building something new.

EmotionalSupportBMW
EmotionalSupportBMW
1 month ago

You know, I’ve always looked up at those multiple ton whirling death machines and thought “We should definitely make these more accessible to otherwise incompetent”.

Jim Stock
Jim Stock
1 month ago

Helicopter is high on the list of vehicles I want LESS qualified people operating. They can fall from the sky, so not the place burgeoning more anti-expertise culture.

Clear_prop
Clear_prop
1 month ago

Envelope protection is a good thing, but not sure it is worth half the price of the helicopter.

A Garmin GFC with ESP will give 90% of the benefits of this system for just a few AMU.

Freddy Bartholomew
Freddy Bartholomew
1 month ago
Reply to  Clear_prop

A ground fault circuit with extra-sensory perception for just a few atomic mass units.

Sorry, I just can’t help it when faced with acronyms for which I have different meanings stored in my brain. I once worked at HP Labs in a section that was referred to as ‘PRC.’ All I could think of was People’s Republic of China.

Clear_prop
Clear_prop
1 month ago

Yeah, I should have spelled them out.

A Garmin GFC (Garmin Flight Controller (autopilot)) with ESP (Electronic Stability Protection) will give 90% of the benefits of this system for just a few AMU (Aviation Monetary Units (1AMU=$1000).

Freddy Bartholomew
Freddy Bartholomew
1 month ago
Reply to  Clear_prop

Thanks! The unit of currency is great.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 month ago

Thank goodness there aren’t any recent examples of software glitches causing aircraft to crash.

Fjord
Fjord
1 month ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Or cars. And at least in your car, when the automation fails the outcome isn’t ‘fall out of the sky and die’.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
1 month ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

My DJI drone just wigged out and left me. It didn’t even say goodbye. 🙁

DJI covered a replacement, and it would randomly just fly full speed in a set direction sometimes. I was in the process of selling it, and it took off and climbed at full speed, then spiked itself into the concrete. The guy didn’t buy the wreckage, lol

PS: Skydio has been incredible.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 month ago

Well I can’t fly a plane or a helicopter. But I bet the reason flying is safer is you need a lot of instruction to get a license so in general the idiots get blocked.
Isn’t Skyrise a eczema medison?

Clear_prop
Clear_prop
1 month ago

I thought Skyrizi was playing that music festival with Duo Lipa and Flo Rida.

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