What The People Want

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It didn't get much attention, but it's possible that The Future started last week, when the German company building the Volocopter set a new crowdfunding record and raised about $1.6 million in three and a half days. The money will be enough to complete flight tests with the prototype, and the company says it's ready to quickly move onward to production from there. The final version will be stable, reliable, and easy to fly, the company says, and will be ready for deliveries by 2016.

The Volocopter may seem goofy to pilots who grew up with Cessnas and Cubs, but to a newer generation, it might be the perfect way to navigate the sky. "It makes the experience of flying safer, simpler, and more accessible, and therefore fun," said Satyendra Pakhalé, a designer who chose the Volocopter as his "favorite thing" this week for a Bloomberg holiday feature. Those qualities -- safe, simple, and fun -- are key to the aircraft's appeal.

GA advocates often compare airplanes to boats or motorcycles, as recreational vehicles that, as a bonus, provide transportation. The trouble is, you can play with your bike or your boat all summer long, store it for the winter, and next summer pick up where you left off. Airplanes are not so forgiving. Conscientious pilots always feel that nagging worry that their skills are degrading, those turns to final are not as crisp or sure as they used to be, the flight-planning sequence is not so intuitive as it once was. For some pilots, that constant challenge is part of the fun, and they embrace it. But for others, who are looking for safe and simple, once they slip behind the curve and sense the margin of safety eroding, it's not fun anymore, and they go boating instead.

The Volocopter may not be the GA aircraft of the future. But the enthusiastic response to funding its development might be a sign that people do still want to fly, and they may even want to buy an aircraft. They want that aircraft to be safe, simple, and fun to fly, and if it can also be quiet, maintenance-free, and cheap to operate, that's even better. Cessna pilots might laugh at such a list, but the pilots of the future -- who already are among us -- will expect nothing less.

Join the conversation.  Read others' comments and add your own.

Comments (12)

I'd love to fly one, I wish them all the luck in the world, and hope they can meet their goals. But then there's reality.....

Posted by: Richard Montague | December 19, 2013 9:54 AM    Report this comment

Sounds like what is being described is a Piper J-3 Cub. Although, I would think we could build something better than that today, but still retain the important qualities. Kind of like a new Mustang relative to a Ford Model A Roadster.

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | December 19, 2013 10:36 AM    Report this comment

Anyone know how this bird autorotates?

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | December 19, 2013 4:46 PM    Report this comment

Interesting concept that avoids many of the traditional helo design problems, but I'd hate to see what happens to this 18-rotor helicopter if the flight control computer ever goes blue-screen...lord have mercy!

Posted by: A Richie | December 20, 2013 10:06 AM    Report this comment

Rafael: it does not autorotate, but can handle the loss of up to 4 motors. A Richie: each motor has its own control computer, each controller communicates with all the others. Huge redundancy, and backed up by a ballistic chute. See www.seedmatch.de/startups/e-volo/uebersicht for more info.

Posted by: Rush Strong | December 20, 2013 11:14 AM    Report this comment

'..but I'd hate to see what happens to this 18-rotor helicopter if the flight control computer ever goes blue-screen...lord have mercy!'

Or randomly attacked by packs of nuthin-to-do, trouble-seeking Zombi drones, who, while fleeing from autonomous police drones for spraying graffiti on Cubs, Pipers and Mooneys late one night, orchestrated by that arch-villian Samy Kamkar (AvWeb article), were last seen vanishing into semi-trucks somewhere on a highway in New Jersey.

I should have bought those remote12 acres in Colorado twenty years ago when they were cheap...

Posted by: David Miller | December 20, 2013 11:44 AM    Report this comment

Dave, I have some oceanfront property near Belfry, Montana I could let you have for a song.

Posted by: Richard Montague | December 20, 2013 1:06 PM    Report this comment

Rush, thanks. I was wondering about the ballistic chute.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | December 20, 2013 9:42 PM    Report this comment

Awesome? Definitely. Safer? Maybe. As a means of zipping across town or across to the islands in 10 to 20 minutes, there'd have to be utility in these things. There would however also have to be several phases of flight in which ye olde ballistic chute could not mitigate the consequences of a total loss of power.

After flying one of those Parrot drones, my first thought was about how it could translate to human transport. I could see that the control systems and propulsion would be completely scalable but that safety would be the main issue. Maybe it' pie in the sky but I think what's needed is "total envelope protection" so that every phase of flight is covered by chutes, airbags etc. I'm talking about little chutes to remove speed quickly and external airbags to cushion hard landings.The basic tech is already available, the trick would be to integrate everything and get the weight down. It's still a hallucination for now, I know :-). Seems like where we should be headed though.

Posted by: John Hogan | December 21, 2013 7:22 PM    Report this comment

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained" as it is said.

Personally, I'd feel better about the chance for success if the developers were funded by professional venture capitalists. These are people the public has learned to hate, but they usually do their homework, determine a risk/reward ratio of a business plan and move accordingly.

"Crowd-sourcing" seems to be too much of a whimsical form of financing where not much is gambled by any individual, but bragged about on social media sites. Followers jump on board just because. All doing so without much knowledge other than some videos and a press release.

Genuine venture capitalists will be the adults in the room, with real advice, when something goes bad, as it inevitably does in any venture.

Best of luck. Need that also.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | December 23, 2013 10:11 AM    Report this comment

Edd; and you didn't invest in the "Flying Car"? Your diplomatic and tame comment regarding so many ill-fated airplane ventures is well stated. Perhaps when MARKETING people approach the engineering guru's FIRST with market research that deems the DEMAND for the "Flying Cruise Liner" or "Flying Semi" as being practical and saleable in the market place, who then design and build the prototype in that order, might "fly" one day?

Posted by: Rod Beck | December 31, 2013 3:51 PM    Report this comment

Well...hope the people with the money invested don't ever need to see their money again! This thing isn't practical at any level, and to actually bring it to the market is a fantasy.

Why isn't a more truthful approach to aircraft design, development, and production brought to the table? Could it be an airplane with advances to engine technology, airframe safety, AND modern manufacturing techniques to bring the airplane to market at an "affordable" cost be the answer to General Aviation?

I would rather invest in the flying carpet concept, as it makes about as much sense. Why is it that aviation has the 4th grader mentality/emotion to solving airplane problems? Lets get serious and put something together that works for aviation. get-aviation.com

Posted by: Michael Dempsey | December 31, 2013 6:58 PM    Report this comment

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