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Volocopter VC1 (defunct prototype)

 

VC1
Volocopter GmbH
Bruschal, Germany
www.volocopter.com

Volocopter GmbH was founded in 2011 in Karlsruhe, Germany, by Alexander Zosel and Stephen Wolf with the intent of making an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) multicopter aircraft for fast and efficient urban travel. Known as “e-volo GmbH” until being renamed in July 2017, the company is now based in Bruchsal, Germany. Volocopter announced in February 2020 that it had raised a total of €122 million (approx. $145M USD) since inception. 

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the first manned flight of an electric multicopter was the Volocopter VC1 prototype. The VC1 multicopter was flown by co-founder, primary designer, inventor and builder, Thomas Senkel on Oct. 21, 2011.

The Volocopter VC1 is a one passenger eVTOL prototype aircraft with 16 individual rotors and has a maximum flight time of 20 minutes. The VC1 multicopter weighs 80 kg (176.4 lbs) and has a 5 X 5 m (16.4 ft X 16.4 ft) profile. The first flight lasted only 90 seconds, but served its purpose as the prototype to later Volocopter models such as the Volocopter 2XVolocopter VC200 and the Volocopter VoloCity. Safety is a key factor with Volocopter. 

The YouTube video from the first flight reached one million hits after a few days of the flight. The overwhelming worldwide response from the first flight gave an indication that the world was ready for urban air travel which gave confirmation to the team to move forward and develop a certified electric aircraft. As of August 2020, their famous first flight video has over 27 million views.  

It might not been apparent now to most people, but at the time in 2011, having an electric powered aircraft, using multiple propellers and using one electric motor for each propeller is a much safer aircraft to fly because if several of the propellers stop working, the other propellers can continue to fly the aircraft and land the passengers to safety. It can continue to fly and land safely with 12 propellers working, according the the inventor.  In a helicopter, if the main rotor or tail rotor fails, this can result in a fatal crash for all the passengers. The propellers are very light, greatly reducing the weight of the aircraft which in turn greatly increases the efficiency of the aircraft, needing less energy to fly it and reducing the cost of manufacturing the aircraft.

In addition, there is no mechanical pitch control for the propellers, the flight controller (like the ones used in small drones) changes the speed of the propellers individually for vertical flight and for flight control. Using mulitple small propellers, no mechanical control, no heavy engine or transmission - this makes the aircraft very light weight, keeps the cost down, keeps the maintenance time down and greatly simplifies the aircraft. 

Consider a helicopter, the petroleum powered engine and transmission is very heavy and complex, there is a fuel tank, oil, mechanical shafts from the transmission to both the rotorblades and tail rotor. All these mechanical devices are complex, heavy, expensive, and need constant maintenance. Any one of these parts failing during flight could lead to a catastrophic failure and death of pilots and passengers. With Distributed Electric Propulsion, that is, many electric propellers and electric motors distributed over an aircraft, reduces the dreaded single point of failure. If one or several propellers fail, the remaining propellers can land the aircraft safely.  

e-volo (now Volocopter) was originally going to have the VC1 be an uncrewed aircraft and flown remotely but the aircraft was so stable that the famous first flight was a crewed flight. The company stated that the aircraft was surprisingly stable. The first crewed flight of VC1 earned Volocopter the Lindbergh Foundation’s Lindbergh Prize for advancements in green aviation. For the development of the Volocopter, the e-volo partner network received 2 Million Euros of federal funds. The Volocopter VC1 was succeeded by the Volocopter VC2, which was an uncrewed demonstrator that featured 18 propellers instead of 16.

Volocopter will be manufacturing the aircraft, running the air taxi service, building Voloports, allow passengers to request a flight through an app, will not be selling their aircraft to individuals and will offer air taxi urban travel at competitive prices. Volocopter stated in November 2019 that the VC1, VC2, VC200 and 2X prototypes have collectively made over 1,000 test flights, including in Dubai and Singapore.

For more information on the other aircraft developed by Volocopter, please see the following aircraft pages:

Specifications:

  • Aircraft type: eVTOL prototype
  • Capacity: 1 pilot/passenger
  • Cockpit: Pilot at the same level as propellers, in the center of the aircraft, in an open air cockpit
  • Cruising speed: Unknown
  • Flight time: 20 minutes
  • Flight control: Joystick 
  • Propellers: 16 on four struts, each strut having four propellers
  • Electric engines: 16 
  • Batteries: 32
  • Empty weight: 80 kg (176 lbs)
  • Length and width:  5 X 5 m (16.4 ft X 16.4 ft)
  • Fuselage: No covered fuselage, the aircraft has an open framework
  • Landing gear: Single pilate ball in the center of the aircraft with four angled landing struts located about way half way from the center of the aircraft. 
  • Safety features: Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP), provides safety through redundancy for its passengers and/or cargo. DEP means having multiple propellers and motors on the aircraft so if one or more motors or propellers fail, the other working motors and propellers can safely land the aircraft. It can land safely with only 12 propellers working. Future aircraft will have ballistic parachutes for additional safety.

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