A vertical takeoff into the mobility of tomorrow
Scientists at the Technical University of Munich have developed a form of control technology that is being used in the prototype of the electric, vertical takeoff aircraft AutoFlightX V600.
Passengers could be avoiding traffic jams and reaching their destinations in electric, vertical takeoff aircrafts in the near future. However, the control system for these aircrafts presents a major challenge. Researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have gained a great deal of expertise on the subject. The control technology they have developed is now being used in the prototype of the AutoFlightX V600, an electric, vertical takeoff transition aircraft.
Helicopters and multicopters can take off and land vertically but they aren’t very efficient for cruise flight. Traditional passenger aircrafts, on the other hand, can fly efficiently, but require runways. A transition aircraft combines the benefits: its propellers enable it to take off and land vertically, but it also has wings, meaning it can switch to an efficient cruise flight mode.
During vertical take off, the aircraft is in hover mode, suspended in the air. This is followed by the transition stage, as it switches from hover mode to the third mode, forward flight. “A manned air taxi prototype like this has never been flown in Germany before,” explains Franz Sax from the TUM’s Institute of Flight System Dynamics, where researchers have been working for years to develop flight control systems.
The Gilching-based company AutoFlightX joined forces with the institute to develop its air taxi prototype. Chief Operating Officer Matthias Bittner says: “We want to build an air taxi that can easily take off and land vertically, but also travel longer distances as efficiently as possible. The biggest challenges are the flight control and stabilization systems, which enable the aircraft to stay in the air even in adverse conditions.”
Three flight stages, one control unit
This is what TUM researchers have managed to develop. “We can teach the flight system how to behave in each of the different flight stages,” says Sax. “This is especially challenging for a vertical takeoff and landing vehicle. To do this, we use a complex control system, which hasn’t been used in the industry before.”
For both hover and forward flight modes, there are already existing, established control solutions. In the control system now configured for the air taxi, one unit controls all three stages, meaning the aircraft can also be controlled during the transition stage.
The control unit analyzes data transmitted by sensors, such as the aircraft’s position and speed. It also receives input from the navigation system. From this data, the algorithm calculates the actions required to achieve the desired flight behavior. Physical factors also play a role in these calculations, but these will vary from each flight stage to the next. The control system must also respond to these changes.
Proving technical feasibility
The flight control system developed at the TUM is now being used in the prototype of the AutoFlightX V600, an electric, vertical takeoff transition aircraft. The aircraft was presented to the public for the first time at the “AERO” trade fair in Friedrichshafen. It is 7.6 m long with a wingspan of 8.5 m. The V600 is similar to a Rutan Long EZ, a canard-style aircraft with small, stabilizing wings at the front. It has multiple downward propellers, much like a multicopter, which enable it to take off and land vertically.
With the V600, developers have now demonstrated that the construction of the aircraft is technically feasible in the first place. It will still be some time before the air taxi lifts off with its first lot of passengers on board. “Experts believe the technology will be marketable by 2025,” says Bittner.
This article was first published in German by next-mobility.news..