Proof-Of-Concept Aircraft Won The Lindbergh Prize For 2012
You may recall a while back on AirBorne that we featured an Aero-Video of the Week that was a multi-rotor electric helicopter which looked like it sat on a large exercise ball. That aircraft went on to win the 2012 Lindbergh prize for Innovation, announced in April at AERO-Friedrichshafen.
Well, the German company has taken at least the design phase of its electric multi-rotor aircraft to the next level. On their website, they're showing artist's concept images of single and two-seat electric helicopters with up to 18 rotors each driving by an single electric motor.
In the news release announcing the Lindbergh prize, the foundation said the e-volo Volocopter VC1 is a completely novel vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) system. Using the distributed power of multiple small electric propulsion units, e-volo has demonstrated breakthroughs in redundancy, simplicity of controls and inefficiencies inherent in the control surfaces normally used in aircraft.
The VC1 proof of concept includes multiple redundancies of all security relevant systems including 16 motors, controllers and propellers. The next phase design, Volocopter VC evolution 2P, will relocate the propulsion units above the fuselage which should improve the stability with a lower center of gravity and allow for the use of a whole airframe parachute (a safety system not normally available in a helicopter).
The e-volo has demonstrated control of this aircraft with a fly-by-wire system using a joystick. One can imagine that a new generation of pilots will be able to transition right from their smart phones and game stations to the Volocopter, an aircraft that will ultimately be easy and safe to fly.
The e-volo system has a unique application of electric power to control flight direction and velocity, much different than normal flight controls. For example, ailerons, elevators and rudders create drag when they are applied to change the flight path of a normal aircraft. The VC1 demonstrates the potential of differential power to change flight path which will reduce the amount of power required. Also, with multiple small distributed electric propulsion units the amount of noise generated is significantly reduced.
“We believe that the development of the Volocopter holds significant promise to radically change short distance transportation,” said Erik Lindbergh at the time. “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.”
On its website, e-volo says the current flight time for the multi-rotor aircraft is about 20 minutes, given current battery technology. They say they anticipate improvements in that technology to bring the flight time to an hour or more, and the two-place version of the aircraft is being developed with a hybrid system in which a "combustion motor" would run a generator allowing the batteries to be charged in flight.
There is no indication as to when such aircraft might be flying commuters from a driveway near you ... but that is the goal the company hopes to achieve. (e-Volo images top: proof of concept aircraft from YouTube. Bottom: artist's concept of two-place aircraft)