Hybrid copter is first of its kind

  • 06-Nov-2013 03:41 EST

The range-extender version of the volocopter will have a propeller behind the cockpit. Shown is the all-electric version.

A small team of inventors in Germany is moving closer to first flight of its VC200 volocopter—a helicopter-like aircraft conceived from the start to be powered by batteries and electric motors.

In contrast to conventional helicopters, e-volo’s tail-less VC200 (the 200 means two-seater) uses a web of paired electric motors and propellers for vertical takeoff and landing plus forward motion. Independently controlled for rotational speed, the 18 motors/propellers are used to steer the aircraft. No mechanical pitch control of the propellers is necessary.

A “pusher” motor and propeller pairing, aft of the cockpit, was envisioned from the beginning. But the “range-extender” version—likely using an internal-combustion engine feeding a generator—is two or three years down the road, Alexander Zosel, e-volo CEO, told Aerospace Engineering via email.

In the prototype version of VC200, electricity for the equally rated (about 3.9 kW) motors is stored in a centralized battery pack—details of which the company is not releasing. The serial version of VC200 will have 18 decentralized packs as well as some “centralized batteries,” said Zosel.

He and his e-volo co-executives and co-inventors—Thomas Senkel, Lead Drive Development; and Stephan Wolf, CFO, Lead Software Development—have designed VC200 to eventually achieve:

• Cruising speed of at least 54 knot (100 km/h)

• Flight altitude of up to 6500 ft

• Maximum takeoff weight of 450 kg

• More than one hour flight time

It will be seen over the next few years whether those bogies are actually achieved. Currently, battery capacity is sufficient for only about 20 min of flight time. The company is confident battery technology will advance significantly by the time the first VC200 is placed in a customer’s hands, which, Zosel said, will happen in 2016.

The first VC200 prototype was completed in time for the world premiere in Berlin on Aug. 13, 2013, as part of Europe’s GreenTec Awards program. Airbus won the “Goliath” award for work in fuel cells, and e-volo won the “David” award for the VC200.

“We are on schedule with the development,” e-volo’s Wolf said at the time; a manned flight was still being planned for 2013. “Many thanks go to our key partner, DG Flugzeugbau. In the recent weeks, their employees have tirelessly produced the last parts of the VC200.”

In his email exchange with Aerospace Engineering, however, Zosel indicated that the first flight—slated for late this month—will be unmanned.

The volocopter is now back at the DG Flugzeugbau factory in Bruchsal, Germany, and first flight will take place there at a glider field.

The project has gotten €2 million in support from the federal government.

“This green aircraft is a perfect blend of German engineering and innovative ingenuity,” Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier said at the GreenTec event.

The VC200 is a group effort, with e-volo of Karlsruhe having invented the basic concept. Its role is project coordination, technical project management, architecture of the steering software, test flights, prototype certification, marketing, and sales.

Research partners and their roles are:

• Institute of Applied Research, University of Applied Sciences Karlsruhe: automatic and interactive steering system.

NAVKA – Navigation Algorithms and Platforms Karlsruhe: multiple redundant multisensor system optimized for configuration to calculate navigation status.

• Institute of Aerodynamics and Gas Dynamics, Department Helicopters, University of Stuttgart: aerodynamic blade design, aerodynamics of multirotor alignment, assessment of aircraft performance and controllability, configuration optimization, and emergency scenarios in case of rotor failure.

IMST Corp., Kamp-Lintfort: 24-GHz radar system for collision avoidance and landing support.

Industry partners and their roles are:

• DG Flugzeugbau: passenger cabin and mechanical assembly of lightweight fuselage construction.

ICS AG, Stuttgart: risk management and development of intelligent solutions for critical IT environments.

W. Gessmann Corp., Leingarten: threefold-redundant control joystick.

Smoto Corp., Augsburg: e-drives.

Helix Carbon Corp., Würselen: rotors for lift and propulsion.

ATB Blank Corp. / Blank Sky-Control, Roggenburg: cockpit electronics and steering hardware.

Smart Battery Solutions Corp., Kleinostheim: energy storage with battery housing and battery management system.

Wankel SuperTec Corp., Cottbus: serial hybrid drive.

Junkers Profly Corp., Kulmbach: rescue system (vehicle parachute).

Maus Corp., Karlsruhe: model and mold, rotational molding.

Apfel Corp., Dossenheim: aircraft trailer for the VC200 including shelving and an intelligent assembly aid for the rotor arms.

SinusLeistungsSteller, Waldbüttelbrunn: motor control for electric drives.

mach:idee, Engineering Company, Karlsruhe: 3-D visualization, animation, simulation, and real-time presentation.

ISIS Technologies Corp., Karlsruhe: production of CNC parts and small series for the prototype.

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