The Hillard Brothers Flying Machine

John Hillard, aloft over Custer State Park, during the inaugural flight using an electric paramotor he and his bother Phillip developed.

On a brisk fall morning at the Custer State Park airport, John Hillard sprinted across an open field with a propeller strapped to his back. The 80 pounds of thrust generated by the electric motor pushed him forward as the paraglider wing lifted over his head. In seconds he was aloft. The inaugural flight lasted only a few minutes. But it was a milestone after years of work to pioneer a commercial electric paramotor.  

Phillip and John Hillard grew up with a love of flying inspired by their father, a Navy helicopter pilot. Phillip finished his degree in mechanical engineering in 2018, and his younger brother John is in his senior year at Mines. The brothers took up paramotoring as a hobby; their training as engineers helped them identify improvements needed to the standard gas motors used in the sport. “We spent almost as much time tuning our two-stroke gas engines as we did flying. We wanted to break that down and make the sport easier to do and take it into the realm of the standard consumer,” says Phillip. 

Their fix: Go electric. Electric motors are quieter, simpler to operate and more compact and light weight.  But pioneering a new electric paramotor system didn’t prove easy.   The brothers had to overcome hurdles such as insuring battery safety, building in redundant fail-safes, designing proper instrumentation and keeping it all in a lightweight, compact system. “The cool thing about being an engineer today is you can turn around designs so quick,” says John. One morning while sitting in physics class, John had an idea on how to build the throttle controller.  “On my lunch break I hopped on a computer and sketched it in Solid Works. I took it to a 3D printer that afternoon,” says John.  “By the end of the day I had a working throttle.”  

Phillip and John practice iterative design. “So we do as much math and engineering as we can.  Then we build it, and we break it, and we make it better,” says John.  The process is bearing fruit. Their second version of the electric paramotor incorporated the lessons learned in the first design.  It’s 40 pounds lighter, it includes a lithium ion battery and an electric motor designed for large crop dusting drones. It has five layers of fail-safe redundancy built in.

Following that successful maiden flight, they are working to secure funding to continue development of their product with the long-term goal of making recreational flight safer, easier and more successful. 


Last edited 4/26/2019 2:40:47 PM

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