Nope, neither bird, nor plane. It’s the pentacontakaitetracopter… obviously. A self-made helicopter powered by 54 drone rotor blades.
Created by inventive YouTuber gasturbine101, the makeshift craft managed to hover nearly three feet off the ground, despite weighing 148kg. But that’s not all the impressive copter is capable of: it can also carry a further 164kg and can stay airborne for around ten minutes.
In order to stay in the air the Swarm-manned aerial vehicle’s 54 18-inch propellers need to spin at a rate of 5000rpm, though its inventor insists it’s safe enough to ride.
The creator admits it’s not the safest craft in the world, but says that 54 “18 inch propellers at 5000 rpm, though hazardous, are still much less so than six five-foot ones”.
The pentacontakaitetracopter even comes with a dual purpose plastic dome, which doesn’t just function as a handy rain shelter for Britain’s predictably drizzly skies. As the propellers are exactly aligned with the pilot’s head, it’s also designed to make sure the flier returns to the ground with all body parts firmly intact.
Is this the future of personal flight, the arrival of the manned drone?
Probably not. But before it’s dismissed out of hand, bear the advantages in mind:
1. It’s really really easy to control. You can just divide the 54 rotors into zones that correspond to the 4 props on a quadcopter. There’s more complex things you can do to correct for failed rotors and such but a control loop is enough to get off the ground.
2. It’s really cheap. It actually flies, and if you could solve the control reliability, would let you fly for about 10 to 30 minutes depending on how many batteries you loaded on it. The actual rotor system is highly reliable – as you can see, each node is isolated and has it’s own battery and motor controller. Ironically, this kind of architecture is probably less likely to suddenly fail than a multimillion dollar turbine helicopter. Sure, each cheap Chinese made rotor and motor and battery is highly likely to fail at any moment, but the probability that enough of the 54 suddenly fail all at once before you can land is low. You just need a control system able to recognise when nodes have failed and to advise a landing to the pilot. You also need a control system that prevents unrecoverable flight states
How cheap? 54 rotor packages times about $250-$500 of parts for each one. So about $27,000 in parts. Meaning, you could manufacture these things if you didn’t care about liability for $81,000 each.
People laughed at the Wright brothers…