According to its makers, “e-volo’s Volocopter is a revolution in aviation made in Germany. Safer, simpler, and cleaner than normal helicopters, it has a unique way of moving – a groundbreaking innovation. The Volocopter is an environmentally friendly and emission-free private helicopter. Instead of one combustion engine, eighteen electrically driven rotors propel it.”
Alexander Zosel, managing director of e-volo, says that the VC200’s maiden flight and first test flights in the dm-arena in Karlsruhe, Germany on November 17 are precursors of coming production models. “There are already numerous requests for the Volocopter from around the world,” he added.
The two-seat vehicle made several flights lasting several minutes each, climbing within the gymnasium but not presenting any danger to hanging lights in the 22 meter (71.7 feet) high enclosure. Notably, it did not carry pilot or passenger, but received commands from a radio-control transmitter managed by Daniel Gurdan and Jan Stumpf, two of Ascending Technologies‘ CEOs.
Designed from the start as an easy-to-fly aircraft, the obvious difficulty of manipulating 18 motors to maintain the level of stability exhibited in the video comes from significant autopilot development, a result of ingenious design by development partner AscTec. That company has significant experience with multi-rotor platforms used in multiple applications, including filming those “how did they get that shot?” type videos popular on extreme sports television.
e-volo’s team wanted their craft to be easy to fly, and for the pilot, control will be transparent, with joystick controls familiar to most pilots and video gamers. This will add to safety, with the company claiming, “A large number of pilot mistakes that cause flight accidents are no longer possible in the Volocopter. The pilot only controls the direction of the flight and does not need to worry about safe flight conditions. This task is automatically and flawlessly transferred to on-board computers in coordination with the numerous sensors.”
e-volo promises that the VC200 will be quieter than a helicopter, noting that, “The pleasant low, rich sound and the lower-than-expected noise level caused great cheering among the e-volo team during the first flights.” This is hard to verify from the sound levels on the video.
One thing not hard to verify is the lack of vibration in the shots taken from cameras mounted on the Volocopter. “’The result of the first flight created a euphoria among the entire project team.’ [Managing director Stephan] Wolf and Zosel further stated that ‘not even the HD video cameras secured to the exterior carbon ring of the rotor plane captured the least vibrations.’“
Construction is lightweight and modular, with each of six rotor arms carrying three drives, and each rotor arm supplied with power from different energy sources. e-volo explains that the, “18 drives are supplied by six central battery blocks. The supply lines to the drives are divided in such a way that each rotor arm’s three drives are supplied by three different battery blocks. This way, two non-adjacent arms can fail entirely and the Volocopter is still able to land safely. Since the Volocopter has a reserve capacity of 50%, a safe landing is possible even when two battery blocks fail. The series production plans to include additional decentralized backup batteries.
These redundancies are complemented by a ballistic total separation system, which safely lands the entire aircraft with a parachute in the case of an emergency. Thus, the Volocopter has not only a second chance, but even numerous chances.”
The makers conclude, “Nearly all problems of normal helicopters are thereby solved.”
Redundancy abounds with 20 independent computers, connected in an “intelligent mesh network… allows for countless network connections to fail without impairing flight navigation. The steering joystick is built with multiple redundancies.” Theoretically, any single computer could fly the aircraft to the point where the ballistic parachute would be deployed as a final “save.”
Erik Lindbergh, Charles Lindbergh’s grandson, has high hopes for this machine. “We believe that the development of the Volocopter holds significant promise to radically change short distance transportation; it has a long development path ahead, but if this innovative design reaches the commercial market, it will dramatically change the way we move about the planet.”
Germany’s Federal Minister of Economics, Dr. Philipp Rösler, thinks taxpayers got their euros’ worth. “When I see what the e-volo team has accomplished over the past months, I must say that our appropriated funds for this project have been a truly good investment of German taxpayer money.”
Readers can get an early start on flying about in their own e-volo, with a November 27 start on crowdfunding efforts at Seedmatch, a German equivalent to Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Supporters can receive premiums for contributions from 250 to 10,000 Euros ($337 to $13,500) with first signers of a 10,000 Euro package receiving a purchase opportunity worth 5,000 Euros for a place among the candidates to purchase one of the first Volocopter VC200s.