The vision of the future, at least according to Saturday morning cartoons, was jetpacks. We were all supposed to be zipping around our futuristic cities wearing jetpacks by the year 2000. That didn’t happen (the robot maids and moon colonies have also yet to appear), but perhaps the e-volo multicopter will be a viable alternative.
The multicopter is an electric, vertically starting, human carrying transportation device that employs 16 propellers mounted on a rigid frame, allowing it to take off and land like a helicopter. The propellers create the full lift, and are also responsible for balancing the device on all three axes by independent speed control of the motors. Unlike the rotor of a helicopter, the propellers don’t have any pitch control and therefore no wear.
The automatic attitude and directional control are taken care of by onboard computers which control the engines with the precise rotation speed necessary to fly this tri-axis device. A simple joystick allows the pilot to control the aircraft via a fly-by-wire system. E-volo says the flight of the multicopter is only limited by battery strength.
But who’s going to fly this wild aviation concept? To step into the middle of the multicopter’s whirling nest of 16 blades must take a very brave person. That person is Thomas Senkel, who recently survived the contraption’s first manned liftoff, becoming the pilot of the world’s first manned electric multicopter. The entire flight, in southwest Germany, lasted one minute and 30 seconds. Said Senkel afterward: “The flight characteristics are good natured. Without any steering input it would just hover there on the spot.” You can watch the maiden flight here, with liftoff takeoff occurring around the 1:45 mark: