e-volo VC200 Makes Maiden Flight. Flying Cars Incoming

The e-volo VC200 has made it’s maiden unmanned flight. Does the craft above look a bit familiar? We first reported on the e-volo team back in 2011. Things have been going great for the team since then. They’ve created an 18 motor (Octadecacopter?) prototype dubbed the VC200. The group has taken a smart approach to building their craft. Rather than try to keep everything in-house, they’ve created a network by partnering with a number of companies who are experts in their fields. A sailplane company laid up the carbon fiber composite frame for the EC200. Junkers Profly, a German aviation company, developed a ballistic parachute system in case something goes wrong in flight.

From the outside, the VC200 looks like a grown up version of the Quadcopters we’ve seen here on Hackaday. Even the control system used for the test flight looks like a modified Radio Control Transmitter. The motors are outrunner brushless motors. Props are carbon fiber. We’re hoping the control system is a bit more evolved (and redundant) than the systems used in R/C quads though. Just like in smaller scale models, batteries are still the limiting factor. The VC200 will only fly for about 20 minutes on a charge. However, e-volo says that new technology should allow it to extend that time to around an hour. Not very much for a cross country flight, but plenty to pioneer a new type of aircraft. Where do we sign for the beta program?

Videos are in German, with English subtitles.

82 thoughts on “e-volo VC200 Makes Maiden Flight. Flying Cars Incoming

    1. this. For the amount of money dumped in to this project, you’d think them and their backers would try for something which could in our lifetimes actually see the marketplace. Somehow they’ve managed to fleece crowdsoucing investors of 1.2 million euros. They say

      ” However, a considerable advancement in battery technology is conceivable during the next few years, so that a multiplication of the energy capacity will occur within a short period of time.”

      So somehow they think we’ll magically triple battery capacity without specifying how in the next few years. And even then what good is a helicopter which can only fly at most for an hour? They also say

      “To enable a flight time of several hours right from the start, our two-seater Volocopter is being developed as a serial hybrid electrical aircraft with a range extender.

      A range extender is an additional aggregate in an electrical vehicle which extends the range of the vehicle considerably. The most commonly used range extenders are combustion motors which power a generator that supplies the batteries and electrical engines with electricity. ”

      So what is the point of this then? Why bother having electric motors in the first place? This seems awfully inefficient.

      1. I agree entirely. With regard to energy density of batteries, what people fail to see is that bleeding edge battery tech is coming close to the energy density of hand grenades. I don’t think it is going to get much better anytime soon without becoming more and more dangerous.

        This thing looks like a very expensive, easy to break toy built with other people’s money. If only all tinkerers could do the same and outsource the hard bits.

        1. >what people fail to see is that bleeding edge battery tech is coming close to the energy density of hand grenades

          Sorry, what is the problem here again? Please explain!

          The issues with hand grenades is not their energy density, but the speed at which they release it.

      2. Actually, it can be better. Diesel-electric locomotives won out against all other locomotive types (aside from pure electric where available) due to the efficiency of a diesel generator and pure torque available through electric traction motors.

        So, farming out the energy density to an efficient diesel engine and keeping the capabilities of 18(!) electric motors evens everything out.

        I’m still not sure why people are so quick to laugh off the idea of an axillary power unit for electric range boosting. We all know full well that diesel or gasoline holds a lot more energy than equivalent weight of batteries. By adding a little bit more weight of a high efficiency single-speed engine to charge up the batteries, you can vastly increase your range capabilities while keeping the same weight requirements.

        1. I dont know much about helicopters, but do they require massive amounts of torque similar to a locomotive? And assuming they do, why even have batteries in the first place if the vast majority of the energy will be supplied from a diesel electric generator? They are just large amounts of essentially dead weight.

          1. It might sound insane but using electric drive train can be more efficient than mechanical one, especially in such complex setup. And batteries can help smooth out the delivered power over time so your combustion engine can work in it’s most efficient range no matter how much power you need at the moment.

          2. Why have the batteries at all? Oh, I don’t know… I guess when your fossil fuel based engine stops firing (pulled a Kramer to see just HOW FAR you can make it on one tank of gas?), you would still have a buffer to land safely (though you wouldn’t deserve it).

          3. Running a diesel engine at peak efficiency all the time gives you the energy density and therefore range extension. Throttling any ICE kills your efficiency.

      3. “Why bother having electric motors in the first place?”

        It’s an octadecacopter. I’m going to assume for a moment that there is a good reason they chose 18 propellers. Does a greater number make it more stable perhaps? Or maybe it was just to get the lift they wanted?

        Anyway, how much would 18 combustion engines weigh vs electric motors? How easy would it be to control the throttles of 18 combustion engines with the precision needed to sync the lift of 18 propellers? Or, would there be some complicated set of gears allowing one motor to turn all 18 while still varying the speed of each individually?

        I’m thinking that electric motors were probably a more practical choice. But.. that doesn’t mean one combustion engine couldn’t be added to provide electricity. I wouldn’t complain that they aren’t doing this though. If they want to develop with just batteries and trust there will be some miraculous jump in battery technology then more power to them. When they are ready to go into production if batteries just aren’t cutting it how hard can it be to slap on a generator then? Unless of course there isn’t enough lift to deal with the added weight. In that case though, it was only ever a toy anyway and might as well keep running on batteries.

          1. You don’t steer a 4WD Jeep purely by varying rotation speed either.

            All the gearing required to drive all the props off one engine would likely weigh far more than the current setup, and be significantly less efficient.

      4. One of their backers was the gov’t (the Bundeswirtschaftsministerium, if I remember the 2nd video correctly), so you know this has ‘Green’ written all over it. They wouldn’t get any backing for combustion engines.

      5. As a transmission, for getting power from the engine to the propellors, electric motors are pretty good. An electric motor or generator is roughly 95% efficient, and running wires is much, much, easier than some sort of hellish 18-way gearbox and heavy drive shafts. So sticking an electric generator onboard would be a good, sensible way of doing it.

        Many trains and heavy vehicles are diesel-electric. Must save a fortune on repairs and maintenance, as well as the heavy gears and shafts you no longer need.

        Depending on the commuting distance it’s aimed at, a few more batteries could be added, but maybe giving up the passenger seat for more luggage and a generator would fit it’s customers’ needs better. I’d bet it’s pretty easy to add in to the system, too, just a bit of wiring and maybe a transformer, and the existing battery charger / manager circuits.

        I have to think 18 motors is a bit excessive though! 6 would be plenty! And apparently you gain a lot more in adding an extra inch or two to the props, than by adding extra props.

        Still, how many helicopters have I invented?

        1. There must be an ideal number of motors-weight-thrust calculus. I suspect their equation was skewed to more motors by the available high efficiency motors.
          I would guess that eight motors would be about right to allow one or even two motor failures to be result in no more than an urgent landing.

          As for motor generator power transmission. In locomotives it was far cheaper and more reliable than the alternatives. There were some hydraulic transmission loco’s made but that was more difficult to maintain. Putting the motors, armatures and fields in combinations of series and parallel with relays made for a simple high power multi speed “automatic” transmission.

    2. A small turbine APU driving a generator to supply the bus voltage for the motor drives would be the way to go. Though I wonder what their power draw is.

    3. They may not get backing with an engine but they can develop the tech and then fork it off to a turbo diesel powered (cheaper than a turbine) version with a small battery to provide 3-5 min of flight for safety. I think this setup wont auto-rotate a lick.

      1. Concur on the inability to auto-rotate. IANAHP ( I am not a helicopter pilot) but it’s hard for me to see how you would autorotate with fixed pitch props.

        I’m pretty sure you’d need collective pitch control so that you could lower the angle of attack so that the passing air would drive them forward. With fixed pitch props the propellors would have to come to a complete stop and then spin backwards. I can assure you that won’t work well for anything except making the news.

  1. Yo dawg, we heard you like quadcopters, so we took a video of our octodecacopter with a quadcopter so you can hover while watching us… hover… (it took me a while to realize what the sound at the beginning of the video was).

    It’s cool, but I don’t see much of a future for it. It doesn’t seem to be any smaller or safer or more efficient than a normal helicopter. If anyone can see an advantage to this, please tell me I’m wrong :P

    1. It is more dangerous than a normal helicopter. When you loose power in this you drop like a rock, in a helicopter you auto-gyro and can usually make a landing of some sort. Maybe they put a parachute in the center section.

      1. That was my concern. depending on how your ESC fails you may short the motor and prevent free-wheeling and thus autogyration(?) Also how many motors can blow simultaneously before all control is lost.
        Like you said parachutes diminish these concerns and many commercial examples exist for ultralights and other ‘experimental’ aircraft.

          1. Well, it has a parachute. And maybe with, say, half of the motors still running, you can make a soft landing. Just have two power systems, battery sets, etc, each driving half the motors, and put some thought into where they interface with the controller. Safety’s about percentages.

      2. Autorotation is useful only above a certain height/speed combination, even then it’s a very risky maneuver that requires skill, since you don’t have the engine electronics keeping the rotor RPM for you, so the pilot has to watch : rotor RPM, the descend rate, and where he is actually landing… you also have only one try at it :P

        1. Hope the parachute lines don’t meet the props.

          Great to see people doing new things. Glad my fraidy-cat little pink tush won’t be testing it, though.

    2. This thing has only half the size of a normal Helicopters.

      The promised security comes from the high number of engines.
      If an engine fails, the copter still can flying by the thrust of neighboring motors for compensat.

      The pilot must not have an minimum height of 80 meters above ground to make an emergency landing by auto-rotation.

      Moreover, it is like saying a leisure product as well as a glider or an ultra light Aeroplane not an replacement for much more efficent Plane.

      1. “This thing has only half the size of a normal Helicopters.”

        But it isnt a normal helicopter, it only seats 2 people. And from the pics it still looks pretty big. How big is it compared to a similar ultralight helicopter?

    1. the skycar would probibly work if you dropped the multi-wankel approach and did a genny + brushless fan arrangement. of course 4 motors doesn’t give you the redundancy of 18.

      1. Dr Paul’s had 40 years or so and he still hasn’t managed it yet. Perhaps you should email him. SOMEBODY should!

        Thing is, if it’s a scam he’s had some success in getting investor money. But if it actually worked he’d get much more! How hard can it be!? What’s wrong with him?

      2. Actually I was on Moller’s site the other day, he’s bragging about power-to-weight ratios of his latest engines (and slightly conflating comparisons). His engines are so much better than anyone else’s, etc etc.

        But existing engines have been fine so far for helicopters and planes! So why’s he even wasting his time!? The US military even had that hovering platform, basically a jet engine with a rail round the side and some gridwork on top to stand on, back in about 1965! The X-series had UFOs all through the 1960s. As in things that looked like small UFOs and hovered round like them.

        I’d like to know what’s up with Moller. But then, in another way, I suspect there’s a gigantic quagmire there and I’m probably best not knowing.

  2. I’m wondering what’s the minimum height for the parachute to fully deploy and slow the craft down to an safe landing speed? And are the landing skids designed to absorb the impact if the craft is too low that the parachute does not have time to deploy and slow the craft down safely.

      1. Same here, I live only 10 minutes from base… however the Marines might take exception to my overflight. I don’t think this thing would hold up against an M2 Browning.

    1. I think the parachute system is similar to the balistic ones used in ultra lights. these usually have a minium deployment height of about 80 meters.

    2. In order to have a truly safe system, a simple parachute won’t do, even a 20m drop is well enough to kill the crew, while a conventional parachute needs at least 5x that height to deploy and slow the craft down…
      Probably a combination of a parachute and solid propellant rockets, or at least aided parachute extraction ;-)

      1. I think “aided” is what “ballistic” means, they have little rockets to pull the chutes open. Either a rocket or some other explosive system, sometimes compressed air. Dunno what the minimum safe altitude is. It might be worth using the time / money / effort on improving safety some other way, in the end.

  3. Twenty minutes would get me to work and back easily. However there’s no way I could park that thing. If it could fly on the inner ring of motors alone then it might be possible to commute in the burbs but unless you have a roof top helopad downtown is out.

    1. Perhaps the skids could be extendable, by quite a lot. As long as the ring of props is above the roof level of cars, it could fit in a car park well enough. Perhaps not by landing directly in a parking space, that’s real piloting!

      But a sort-of trolley mechanism could fold down from the skids, with rugged small wheels on the bottom. So you deploy the trolley, land in some open space, then manoeuvre into your parking space. Either by having the wheels powered to help you move it, or just by hand.

      That, and some cameras and ultrasonic parking sensors, probably not insurmountable. To re-launch, just bring it out far enough into the open, and go up!

      Obviously you couldn’t park 2 next to each other. But my point is, parking shouldn’t be impossible, at least in medium-sized car parks, supermarkets would be another matter.

      For the airborne executive, many rich people’s workplaces have helipads nearby anyway.

  4. For regular consumer use, I would expect the props to have guards. Just like there are bad parkers, there’ll be folks shearing off their edge props while parking!

    1. I was thinking the same thing, if we are all commuting in something like this it will be bumper-drone alley at rush hour Of course, by then there will be advancements in air traffic control systems and collision avoidance (along with battery tech). I don’t think it is a waste of money to attempt something like this with electric though, as it stands 20 min of flight time is plenty for my commute.

    2. Not sure you’d be parking THAT close to other aircraft! And perhaps a guard round the outside would mess up the aerodynamics and reduce thrust. Perhaps it would increase it, but this isn’t a ducted fan design so it’s a big deal to add something like that.

      Ordinary helicopters manage. If you shear your props off on ground level, you won’t die, claim it on the insurance, and pay better attention next time! You, or the other guy if it’s his insurance who end up paying.

    1. You would think this would be something that they would have already done. Stupid Hollywood. I would rather they make a real flying car by using the wheelbase of a regular car to have turbo-props that gives the car VTOL capabilities. That way, with the right suspension, it can bounce upon landing if anything goes wrong and just drive off like nothing happened.

      1. I wonder why that hasn’t been done (much)? There’s been the odd transform-a-car, usually a small light car with strap-on wings. But you could use VTOL and props like you say, for a half-helicopter type of flight.

        I suppose James Bond would be your only customer, and nobody’s thought to write it into the script yet. But they did a rocket pack in Thunderball, so any nifty, dangerous looking aircraft can get a role if it’s reliable enough to get a bit of filming done.

        Course nowadays the bastards would probably just use CGI. “Yeah, mr 55-year-old Hollywood producer who’s new to computers, it looks realistic through MY cataracts too! BTW nice baseball cap!”

        CGI’s the greatest crime against cinema I can think of. Films were much better without chintzy Playstation spaceships and Nintendo dinosaurs all over the place.

        1. We need 2 more ratings for movies. First, percent of runtime of CGI footage. Second, number of non human actors (excluding real animals). Beowulf would score 100%, All.

  5. Above where someone wrote its not feasible because of the 1.2 million euros to build. That wasnt the cost to build it was the cost to do all the development, research, parts and materials, as well as labor along the way. The average new car concept can cost double that from most auto makers. So consider that. Now do I think it will be at a reasonable price? Not unless they get some major backers and having to have a pilots license is also a major limiting factor.
    My curiosity is how much battery power is required to get them the 20 minutes of flight time now.
    (The grenade battery comment above…)
    Also with the advances in battery technology they arent getting more dangerous in fact most of them are getting safer. Although lithium is toxic and dangerous some advances to lithium gel makes it safer than the older batteries and achieve greater density.
    There is also the recently released Sodium ION batteries are said to be 600Wh’s per kg.
    The Sulfur based batteries are 4 times the density of standard lithium ion batteries and said to be safer and cheaper infact the cost to make them is a third the cost to make lithium ion batteries.
    *fact* Given those facts the same battery pack that charges the tesla cars (costs $30,000 to date) would cost $2500 and given the fact that those battery packs are said to provide the tesla with a mileage before failures of at roughly 5-8 years and 20,000 per year of mileage between 100,000 – 160,000 miles.
    I could keep doing the math here but those batteries said to be on there way in my opinion will change the landscape on electric vehicle such as this usability and effectiveness.

    Agreed this is still not cheaper initial investment than gasoline but overall a rechargable system

    1. Yup, it’s only recently there’s been any large demand for really, really high capacity batteries. So chemists are paying it attention now, it’ll literally be better than striking oil if you find the right one.

      1. On a tangential battery note, my friend once toured a decommissioned Russian submarine moored somewhere on the Thames. It was a diesel / electric sub. The place where the lead-acid batteries were kept is now available to hire as a ballroom!

    2. I didnt say it was unfeasible due to the 1.2m cost. I said they fleeced investors out of 1.2m for something which will never see the marketplace.

      A typical car R&D program might cost more, but they’ll actually sell them and often in very large numbers. Do you really see them manufacturing thousands let alone hundreds of thousands of these copters?

      1. People want flying cars! Somebody has to invent them. And it’ll probably take 6 dozen stupid, bizarre, designs, before the “obviously” correct one crops up. Same with the history of flight, the Wright brothers just had the 1 crazy looking machine with just enough lift for it’s weight.

  6. The large number of small rotors and all those supporting beams make the thing aerodynamically inefficient and with a poor lift/weight ratio. They could extend the flight time considerably by having less propellers and making them larger.

    1. Agreed, I don’t see the advantage. Another downside is reliability, more rotors means a higher probability of at least one failing. And as the article mentioned, the redundancy doesn’t mean anything unless it is extended to the power and control systems.

    2. well, the efficiency might be worse than with 4 enginges, but they wanted to have redundant motors for the case that one or two engines fail.
      And the costs in future for a device like this could be very low (like a car), plus it’s more basic to fly a Quadcopter(Octocopter) than flying a helicopter.

  7. I don’t see why the motors don’t tilt forward for more efficient forward travel.
    Oh yeah, added complexity (to an already complex design)…

  8. As mentioned on the website you should have a personal pilot lincense to fly one of those and a PPL for a helicopter is even more expensive than one for an airplane.

    1. Money’s not going to be a massive problem for the first few people who buy these.

      For normal people, if there turns out to be a great demand, either they’ll computer-augment it, and governments will add new regulations making it easier, or costs of licenses will come down. If you have 10x more customers, you can do things a lot more cheaply for each of them and still make more money. And pilot’s license fees are just a way of paying for a system that needs administrating.

  9. I just don’t get it. I could understand an octo-copter for redundancy (though, if it were me, I’d have tried to design the vehicle as a hexacopter in order to gain increased efficiency through increased motor and prop size while trying to make it run in tri-copter mode if up to 3 motors failed) but I just don’t understand the need for that many separate motor/prop pairs.

    The smaller the props are, the higher the percentage of hub and the lower the efficiency. The only reason I can possibly think of for them to go with this many motors/props is to increase the response rate of the individual motor/prop through having a lower amount of rotating mass per pair. Would it really be that hard to get the needed response rate from a larger motor/prop when using the most efficient power-to-weight hardware and tricks like regenerative breaking while slowing them down?

    1. James used many small seagulls to lift his giant peach and fly all over.
      Try to find one bigass seagull. Next to impossible!

      I like the many small motors approach. Massive redundancy.

      Swapping dead motors becomes an easy task. Each is so small and cheap.
      Plug and play flight.

      This entire air vehicle could be built in a backyard.
      And take off from there.

      1. Yeah but bigass motors are quite easy to get. You gain so much in efficiency and power. Having a single expensive power plant hasn’t stopped cars, aeroplanes, etc.

        Wouldn’t be any harder to swap out motors if they were, say, twice as big, or even bigger. There’s not a lot to an electric motor, wire up the power and mount to something solid.

        You only need so much redundancy, 18 motors seems ludicrous. Efficiency is important too. As is cost, half as many motors, twice as big (and you wouldn’t need half as many) would be cheaper. And need less propellors, mounting, control, etc etc.

        Surely that’s a FAQ for them, “Why 18?”.

  10. If you want to make a living writing, then learn some basic things first :
    “has made it’s maiden unmanned flight”
    Is it so hard to understand that “it’s” is short for “it is” ?!

  11. i noticed that they aren’t doing manned test flights. There is usually a good reason for not doing manned flights. My guess is either that it won’t take off with the added weight, or it is way too dangerous.

  12. the thing im most worried about is that theres nothing stopping the plane from falling out of the sky should a few of the engines decide to stop working . with a chopper you can at least slow the accent down with the main rotor

    wat they could do is mount a big autogyrorotor on a huge bearing and gimble freewheeling over all the small ones that would enable them to slow the accent same as a helicopter without it realy imparing the smaller engines and props
    im not a engineer but i suspect the big rotor shouldn’t need to stick outside the current construction , they might need a multiblade rotor though to get it stable enough

    1. It doesn’t autogyro but so what? As long as it can still land with x motors and only y% chance of broken bones, it’s fine. You can’t land a Jumbo with no engines either, but plenty of them still fly. Use parachutes, use airbags, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

      An autogyro itself isn’t completely simple, it’d still need testing for every flight. In helicopters the autogyro function is implicit in it’s operation, it’ll never get off the ground if it’s broken.

  13. I couldn’t find the point. Could someone provide a link?

    How does it compare to a traditional helicopter? Is there a single metric where it provides an improvement?

    Cute project though.

  14. what do you call people who auto-rotate in with a traditional helicopter: dead, 90% of the the time. the vc200 is MUCH safer that a traditional helicopter: a) no tail rotor, lose that, and again, you’re dead b) rotor redundancy, with correct programming, you could probably lose at least 2 or 3 motors and land safely c) ballistic parachute is trivial to install. ever seen a chopper with one of those?

  15. One thing that always bothers me is how quickly people will judge unique engineering solutions.

    “18 electric motors and they want to add an internal combustion engine for power? WHY BOTHER WITH THE ELECTRIC MOTORS? LOL, these highly trained and skilled engineers who have built this amazing first-of-its-kind project are clearly much, much siller than I, internet commenter.”

    Generally engineers make /every/ decision for a very good reason, and you can make yourself look very silly by immediately judging it stupid.

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