The pursuit of personal flight took a promising, and kind of wacky, step forward today with the electric 18-rotor Volocopter lifting somebody into the air for the very first time. The maiden manned flight went off without a hitch, with the makers intent on using the emission-free aircraft as flying taxis a little further down the road.
Part multicopter, part helicopter and part alien spaceship, e-volo's Volocopter can take off and land vertically and also hover in the air when need be. Built from fiber composite material with a 450 kg (992 lb) take-off weight, nine individual batteries power the all-electric motors and 18 rotors to make for a top speed of 100 km/h (62 mph).
Despite its complex shape and daunting appearance, the Volocopter is designed to bring personal flight to the masses by being easy to fly – so easy that anyone can apparently have a go. But for now, that privilege has been extended only to e-volo's managing director Alexander Zosel, who took grabbed hold of its single joystick and took the Volocopter to the skies over an airfield in southern Germany on March 30.
"It is definitely a sublime feeling to lift off, fly the first few meters, and then actually take my hand off the joystick and think that, yeah, it's really as if I'm standing on the ground, and then I look down and there are 20-25 meters beneath me," Zosel said. "So it's definitely unbelievable what we've achieved here. It's seriously unbelievable!"
Zosel's test flight saw the Volocopter hit speeds of 25 km/h (15 mph) at only low altitudes. This marks the first part of e-volo's test program. The second phase will test the aircraft at speeds of 50 km/h and a medium altitude, with the final phase to raise that to higher altitudes and its top speed of 100 km/h.
The makers have carried out more than 100 test flights in the buildup to this achievement, though these were unmanned and controlled remotely. The makers say that through this testing they have demonstrated the aircraft's ability to fly almost autonomously.
If things continue to run as planned for e-volo, it plans to start building large quantities of the Volocopter and enter the market within the next two years, with a view to eventually offering air taxi services and another form of public transport. They are likely to have some competition, however, with a number of other personal flight machines making promising strides of late. These have included the Malloy Aeronautics Hoverbike, Ehang's 184 AAV personal drone and the Snowstorm electric multicopter, built by students in Singapore.
You can see the Zosel lift-off in the Volocopter in the video below.