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New Aircraft Arises From Germany

Multicopter flies with 16 electric motors

Designer/builder Thomas Senkel pilots the 16-motor e-volo Multicopter on its first manned flight. Larger view

Senkel with the handheld joystick used to control Multicopter. Larger view

Multicopter’s 16 electric motors turn 16 props in clusters of four that surround the pilot. Larger view

November 2, 2011 – A German company aims to make “simple flight for the average person” a reality after successfully flight-testing a new type of personal rotorcraft this past week. The company, e-volo, took a significant step toward that goal with the first flight of its prototype “e-volo Multicopter,” a single-place rotorcraft powered by 16 electric motors. After a series of successful unmanned flights, the prototype made its first manned flight at the end of October in the southwestern German city of Karlsruhe. It lasted about a minute and a half and reached a height of several meters. (See video below.)

Pilot Thomas Senkel, who also designed and built the aircraft, commented, “The flight characteristics are good-natured. Without any steering input it would just hover there on the spot.” He added, “This could be the future of flight, piloting a device as simple as a car.”

An R&D specialist for electric drives as well as a paragliding and ultralight pilot, Senkel is joined by Stephan Wolf, who wrote the software that controls the onboard flight computer, and Alexander Zosel, who is in marketing, sales, and public relations and is also an avid paragliding pilot and flight instructor.

The 16 electric motors and propellers are mounted in clusters of four that surround the pilot, who controls the aircraft with a handheld joystick - all while perched on an inflatable exercise ball. “Yes, the exercise ball works fine,” Senkel said in an e-mail. “Of course this was only used in the proof-of-concept prototype and will be replaced later.”

Empty weight is 80 kilograms (176 lbs.) - including 25 kg of batteries - which falls within Part 103 parameters in the U.S. Useful load is 80 kilograms.
Several “separate and mutually monitoring onboard computers” control precise rotation speed of each motor for attitude and directional control. The custom, German-made electric motors produce 2 kilowatts each.

This unique propulsion system allows Multicopter to take off and land similar to a helicopter. The propellers create the full lift, and are also responsible for balancing the aircraft on all three axes solely by independent speed control of the motors. According to the company, the aircraft can keep flying if one or two motors fail, and it can land safely even if up to four of the motors fail.

Simple flight is achieved, the company says, because the pilot’s workload is so minimal. “Whether during vertical takeoff, in flight, or landing, the pilot has to pay little attention to minimum speed, stall, gas mixture control, pitch control, or one of many other things that make conventional flight as challenging as it is.”

One of the company’s objectives going forward is extended flight duration and increased payload as battery technology improves. Next flight tests are planned for spring 2012 with an enhanced prototype.

They hope to someday develop a full-blown GA aircraft, which would require attracting significant investor capital. Multicopter, e-volo contends, could one day replace helicopters in certain missions due to simplicity of operations and cost efficiency of maintenance.

The e-volo team has attended the annual AERO Friedrichshafen in the past, “but we may be exhibitors in 2012. We will see,” Senkel said, adding, “EAA/Oshkosh is of course on top of our list.”

As e-velo continues developing the Multicopter and determines its limits, the team is pleased that everything works just fine so far.


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