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First manned flight of an electric multicopter

Sixteen three-phase electric motors propel physicist designer aloft for 1½ minutes

January 2012

Pilot and electric multicopter on their maiden flight

Thomas Senkel pilots e-volo’s manned multicopter on its maiden flight.

E-volo’s battery-powered, manned multicopter prototype is a long way from safety certification, but it was able to carry its designer-pilot, Thomas Senkel, aloft for a successful one-and-half-minute test flight at a German airstrip recently. You can watch video of the first flight at World's first manned flight with an electric multicopter.

Senkel controlled the multicopter with a hobbyist radio control transmitter perched in his lap while sitting atop a balance ball shock absorber amidst a whirring array of 16 rotors driven by small three-phase electric motors. Each motor was powered by a pair of six-cell, 25-volt lithium polymer batteries, each of approximately five amp-hours capacity. A three-phase electronic speed controller provided the pulse-width-modulated drive for each motor.

Multicopter rotor, motor, motor drive, and battery.

Rotor, three-phase motor, motor drive (far left), and lithium polymer battery (bottom).

"The flight characteristics are good natured,” said Senkel. “Without any steering input, it would just hover there on the spot."

e-volo plans to manufacture multicopters for sale to the public, claiming “This could be the future of flight, piloting a device as simple as a car.”