Why haven't quadcopters been scaled up yet?

  • Why are quadcopters not flown by human pilots yet?

    Wouldn't they be more stable and easier to control than helicopters?

    Good point. I'm not really asking why nobody has tried, but rather why it hasn't been more adopted yet, though.

    Some serious development seems to be happening :) – http://www.gizmag.com/go/4645/picture/15365/

    If the earth's atmosphere were thicker (or we had weaker gravity), then it would be more feasible -- c.f., Avatar.

    Autos are difficult enough with one rotor, but the more inertia in the blades, the easier they are. With a bunch of small rotors, autos would be very difficult.

    Adding more than a single motor, mathematically increases the likelihood of failure. Failure of a single motor on the quad design would result in a crash. There is a form of computer compensation that can be employed on small scale, but it has never proved reliable at larger scales. More than a single rotor failure is unrecoverable.

    Here is a human-sized quadcopter. I believe a couple engineers died during initial testing http://techcrunch.com/2016/01/06/the-ehang-184-is-a-human-sized-drone-taking-off-at-ces/

  • Wouldn't they be more stable and easier to control than helicopters?

    No, they would not.

    Quadcopters don't have any special inherent stability. When you increase power of one of the rotors to pitch, the increasing pitch will not do anything to the power difference and therefore the pitching moment.

    The advantage of quadcopters is that the rotors can be fixed pitch while single (or double) rotor helicopter needs complex control mechanism. While this is huge advantage for the small scale devices where each rotor can be powered by its own simple electric motor, the complexity of either additional engines or long transmission shafts would outweigh any advantage from the simpler rotors in full-scale vehicle.

    And why can't full-scale helicopters use electric motors like the small ones? The reason is that when you scale an airfoil up, the lift it produces increases with its area, which grows with the second power of size, but its weight increases with volume, which grows with the third power of size. Therefore models have much more lift for weight and can afford simple but relatively heavy batteries while full-size aircraft need propulsion systems with higher power density.

    And then there is also the factor of safety. In case of power failure, helicopters can still glide to the ground and still land vertically using autorotation. But since the rotor rotating speed can't be changed without power, controlling the helicopter during such manoeuvre requires variable pitch rotor. So there goes the main advantage of quadcopters.

    Actually, the area/volume argument is an argument why large copters _should_ be quadcopters. To produce equal lift, a single rotor would need the same area, which means the rotor blades have to be twice as long as for a quadcopter, and thus 8 times the weight. And on a quadcopter the rotor tips will stay subsonic quite a bit longer as well.

    Having the center of lift above the center of mass doesn't increase stability, this was the fallacy that lead to the strange design of the first Goddard rockets where the engine and nozzle was mounted above the COM on the frame. The problem is that as the object rotates, so does the thrust vector. The only reason the rotor has to be above the COM is if you put it any lower, it would rapidly disassemble objects/people in its immediate vicinity

    @pdel: Hm, yes, you are right. I deleted the incorrect bit.

    While having the center of lift above the center of mass doesn't increase stability, having the center of drag (the rotor disk) above the center of mass does increase stability.

    I was always under the impression that quad copters were more stable because they could be designed with the equivalent of dihedral by angling the rotors inward. Does that not work as well as I thought it did?

    @CortAmmon -- angling the rotors inward does not give you a dihedral effect al la fixed wing aircraft -- it just decreases the rolling moments produced by the rotors a little and couples a rotor into with a horizontal force. As evidenced by a recent crash I've had, quads are neutrally stable at best. Any stability evidenced in flight is due to their flight control systems making up for this.

    @CortAmmon, angling rotors may give you similar effect to dihedral, but keep in mind that dihedral does *not* give you stability in roll. It gives you stability in side-slip and yaw-roll coupling. And quadcopters don't have vertical stabilizers to give them the other half, roll-yaw coupling, to complete the stability loop for roll (second order, with dutch roll as oscillation mode).

    @CortAmmon As someone who as personally built, flow, and tuned quadcopters, there is next to no inherent stability. Pretty much all of a quadcopters stability comes from a flight controller (ie computer + gyro combination) continuously adjusting the individual motor speeds.

  • It has (sort of) been done:

    (not a quad)copter lifting a pilot

    The company that did this is working on a more useful version.

    It's important to note that scaling up is extremely difficult in aviation. Model airplanes have performance numbers the full scale folks can only dream about.

    I'm hoping an aeronautical engineer can chime in on the challenges of scaling up a model. I think Reynold's Number is involved, but I don't know enough.

    It's easier than that. Lift is proportional to area, mass is proportional to volume. When scaling up, the latter grows faster.

    @BrianWheeler: Unfortunately comments are not editable (are editable for 5 minutes only).

    @JanHudec that is unfortunate. I feel like that was a recent addition to the SE network... thanks for trying!

    Is.. that an.. exercise ball?

    Doesn'tlook to safe, ex

    @easymoden00b Looks so. Seems like a good "landing gear" :)

  • Quadcopters are not an efficient design -- one large rotor is far more efficient than four smaller rotors. The reason quadcopters became popular is that they are mechanically simpler, safer (due to the smaller rotors) and far easier to control by software.

    That said, recent advances in machine learning have made so that helicopters can be controlled by software. I'd expect to see a resurgence in helicopter-style drones because of this.

    Finally, I'm not an aeronautics engineer but I suspect there's considerable merit in combining attributes from a quadcopter and a helicopter. Imagine one large fixed-pitch rotor driven by an electric motor. A few small additional electric-motor driven rotors could provide the needed pitch, yaw, and roll control. Electricity would be generated by an efficient gas engine spinning at near constant speed. Enough backup power to land could be provided by small batteries. This design would be extremely reliable due to the greater reliability and simplicity of motors and fixed pitch rotors.

    Advancements will come, but slowly since the costs and dangers of human-carrying vehicles are so high.

  • Advanced Tactics has also somewhat did it!

    enter image description here

    A video of the first flight of the Black Knight Transformer has been released on Youtube.

    sheeeshh that thing's ugly

  • Four rotor copters were actually the first copters...

    Raúl Pateras Pescara, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1916

    Raúl Pateras Pescara, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1916

    Etienne Oehmichen, Paris, France, 1921

    Etienne Oehmichen, Paris, France, 1921

    This doesn't answer the question.

    Well, actually, it does. Not the intent, I suppose.

  • Scaling up the quadcopter design would make them very large. Only having one (or even two) rotor allows the helicopter to be smaller and even fold up the rotors and remain fairly compact. Since by definition helicopters are supposed to get into more difficult landing areas, increasing the footprint is generally undesirable.

    Also, the power system would be complicated. RC quadcopters use an electric motor on each rotor for independent control. A larger version would probably use turbines like most helicopters, and they would either need 4 turbines or a way to gear fewer turbines to 4 rotors. This just adds complexity to the system.

    The Chinook is an example of a helicopter that uses two rotors, but the added complexity makes it undesirable unless the added lifting power is needed.

    and anything large enough that needs to be lifted by 4 rotors would also be large enough to intercept enough downdraft to make any helicopter lift difficult

    also the increased speed capability of the chinook

  • There are three challenges for making a market-competitive full scale quadrocopter.

    1) Energy efficiency
    The quadrocopter is not an energy-efficient design. Helicopters increase their range by using relatively under-powered engines that take a long time to spool up throttle and try to keep it at relatively constant RPM while changing the pitch of the blades to control the helicopter. While this can be used to control pitch and bank, the quadrocopter controls yaw by changing the RPMs of the motors, which I would think would be difficult, and inefficient to do on a full scale helicopter without some sort of CVT to adjust the RPM of the blades without changing the RPM of the engine.

    2) Structural integrity and weight
    Tail rotor helicopters essentially have a fuselage and a tail boom. The tail boom doesn't even need to be that beefy, because the load on the boom is rather small compared to the load of the main rotor pulling up on the frame of the fuselage. Coaxial helicopters can probably get away with just a fuselage, and no tail boom, and probably have less forces acting on the entire structure in normal operating conditions than conventional helicopters. Quadrocopters have four main rotors. Granted, each of the rotors is approximately 1/4 of the power of the main rotor of a conventional helicopter, but the booms would still need to be able to withstand more than 1/2 of the power of a conventional main rotor - think of the extreme case: you're full yaw - that means two rotors diagonally across from one another are either off, or spinning in the opposite direction, creating either loss of lift, or even down force that the other two rotors have to compensate for by producing two times the thrust/lift. It's a rather common phenomenon among miniature R/C planes and helicopters to be completely overpowered, and much beefier than their full-sized counterparts.

    3) Cost of manufacturing
    It's worth mentioning that a larger rotor is easier, and cheaper to manufacture than three additional engines/motors. I think (I could be wrong) the only reason military helicopters have two engines instead of one big one, is for redundancy. If one gets shot, you still have the second one that you can use to limp back to base, or a friendly location. So when you're looking at a whopping four overpowered engines (see point #1) compared to 1-2 underpowered engines, I would imagine you would be looking at something that costs more.

    Those are the reasons why a quadrocopter has not been scaled up, and become commercially available by a large manufacturer. I'm sure each manufacturer is trying to be the first in that market, but I don't think QUADROcopters will ever become human-piloted. If you were talking about making a MULTIcopter (more than 4 rotors) however, there are a few DIY prototypes out there, and I think they have potential.

    4) Addressing the proposals for hybrid systems:
    As things stand now, conventional helicopters run 1-2 turbines for power. They spin in their optimal RPM ranges, and the pilot uses the collective to change the pitch of the rotor blades to control flight. A hybrid system is appealing for cars because it allows the ICE to run in its optimal RPM range rather than constantly changing RPMs. In rotorcraft this isn't an issue - since they already spin at optimal RPM ranges, a hybrid system would introduce a generator, and batteries to generate and store power for the electric motors to consume. This would add weight, without any particular added benefits.

    The big question is - why bother? What makes quadrocopters better than conventional helicopters? For drones the biggest benefit of quadrocopters is their ease and cost of production. It's cheaper to produce four small electric motors than all the mechanisms for a collective. It's also more robust and easier to service. However, we're talking about different scales and missions. Rotorcraft are already inherently inefficient. Their niche - close air support, and transport to locations where it's difficult to land an airplane. The tendency is to create a hybrid, or make a plane with VTOL capabilities. (Osprey, Yak-141, Harrier, F-35 aka US Yak-141). Quadrocopters may find their niche as cheap utility drones, or surveillance drones, but I think a much more likely design, is the likes of the one shown in Avatar - two counter-rotating shrouded rotors on either side of the fuselage, which can be vectored to control flight.

    Technology is ever-changing. Scientists in Russia have miniaturized nuclear reactors and fit them inside missiles. This negates the need for batteries and hybrid systems. If anything, this is the powerplant of choice for large quadrocopter systems, but only time can tell how technology will evolve. Right now, I don't see the benefit of quadrocopter configurations for large rotorcraft.

    Amendment, based on new tech in the market (23.03.2018):
    A Chinese company is actively marketing their EHang 184 autopilot drone air taxi, that uses the quadrocopter design. Specs:

    • 100kg payload
    • 25min cruising time
    • 1hr charging time
    • 500km/h cruising speed (very curious to see this)
    • 500m cruising altitude

    Basically, one can compare it to conventionally designed Mosquito helicopters. They fly slower, but duration of flight,range, and useful load are significantly higher. Also note that while fueling a helicopter these sizes takes five minutes, the air taxi will spend 2 times longer charging, than it will flying. But this is more of a EM vs IC type issue. Time will tell if quadrocopters can prove they're worth up-scaling.

    Adding from recent professional experience (09/19/2018) I was recently asked to develop a quadrocopter concept. While attempting to use electric power, I found that payload weight, and mission flight time drastically increased the weight of the batteries required to fulfill mission parameters, and you ended up with a 3-4 ton four-seat quadrocopter (yikes!). Converting to turboprop solved the weight issue, but dramatically increased cost and complexity. As a result, the decision was made to drastically reduce mission parameters, making for a very short range vehicle, which under normal circumstances would be quite useless. You would need to charge the batteries for several hours to get 15-30min flight time. Either your quadrocopter would be sitting on the tarmac charging, or you would need to swap batteries after every hop, requiring expensive infrastructure at every landing pad. Ultimately the idea was proposed with infrastructure and battery swap, and is awaiting its fate at the hands of upper management, but everyone on our team has already scrapped the project as unfeasible.

    There ARE a number of upcoming battery technologies that would drastically change the potential of such products, but they're not market-ready yet, mostly in theoretical, conceptual, and testing phases at the moment. Can't say much more on the subject without an NDA, sorry.

    Cost is what I'm thinking. Certified piston helicopter engines can cost \$50,000. Even the smallest ones are in the \$25,000 range. Now multiply that by four: You've quadrupled the cost of one of the most expensive components for no gain.

    Electric engines are amongst the most efficient in changing energy into mechanical power, it are also lightweight; of course, you can have an ICE, e.g, a Wankel RCE, driving a generator to a small, emergency and reserve battery, this combustion engine can work always at its best SFC rpm range. There are many simple ways to control rpm of an electric engine. That the concept proved practical has the backing evidence of the lots of man carrying size quadcopter prototypes existing today, just look on YouTube.

    @Urquiola The #1 enemy of all aircraft is weight. You say Wankel - I say turbines have better power-to-weight ratios. You say hybrid system? ut That means you have to have an 1) ICE that consumes 2) fuel, to feed a 3) generator, that stores energy in 4) batteries, so that four electric motors can turn rotors. Why all the extra parts and components? Technology changes, maybe one day we'll get to the point where technology will make quadrocopters reasonable for production, ut we're not there yet.

    I was wondering about your statement that it is necessary to change the rpm of the blades in order to pitch, yaw, roll etc but similarly to a plane wouldn't changing the blade's pitch as done in a fixed wing prop provide a more efficient and simple fix?

    Not for yaw, for that you would need cyclic. While variable pitch props would solve pitch, roll and lift, it also adds complexity to all four propellers, and variable pitch propellers are more expensive. This all comes down to what is cheaper.

  • Below is the info about one of the early protoypes by P Moller, author also of the: 'Volantor', now he's head of Freedom-Motors, a company focused on Wankel Rotary Combustion Engines. Moeller built his flying machines with fans driven by Wankel rotary engines, however, it sounds better having electrical engines for lifting and propulsion fans, and some kind of hybrid system for generating power, Wankels are very good in weight to power ratio and safety. I'd say the Moeller and Helikar are exactly a Quadcopter, and as this machine, and the Utility model/patent backing it are from earlier times as the toys we all know, probably it was the chicken of contemporary toy Quadcopters, the today toys being the eggs.

    The rope and the crane behind the Moller: 'flying saucer', Avro Canada failed in having one airborne, are not for keeping the machine in the air, but a safety measure, if you look, you'll notice that the rope is not under tension while the machine on the air, meaning that the machine flies by itself, and is not hung on the crane.

    The prototypes Bell Textron/X-22 and Curtiss-Wright X-19 can be considered also very close to a quadcopter. An Spanish team: FuVex, designed a prototype named: 'HeliKar', also close to a big size Quadcopter. YouTube includes a video about a German invention named: 'Volocopter VC200', Terrafugia proposed another 'Flying Car', as well as Zee.Aero did, they draw a concept VTOL flying car that could be parked between two ordinary cars in a mart parking lot (see: 'SlashGear'). Aero-X by Aerofex is another one. Fipsi is involved in developing a four-fan flying car, as cited in 'Advanced System Engineering', SUSB Expo 2014.

    'Future transportation' cites what they consider: 'The top 10 flying cars'. Krossblade proposed the SkyProwler and the SkyCruiser, the big problem in a flying car seems fullfilling in the same design the weight and safety requirements for both a car and an airplane. Ford released drawings for an: 'Aero-car'. CNN reports about Fly Citycopter, by E Galvani. Mechanix Illustrated, March 1957 includes a: 'Flying saucer', design by Peter Nofi, power comes from a flat-six reciprocating engine, and Popular Mechanix, French editon, Sept 1961, a similar design: 'Rotavion', by Ben Kaufman. Mechanix Illustrated, Jan 1962, pp 70-73, is about a VTOL device having 3 shrouded fans moved by a turbine. Regarding historical precursors, the machine in the 1961 movie by William Witney: 'Master of the World', based on two novels by Jules Verne: 'Master of the World', and: 'Robur the Conqueror', could be easily considered as a Multi-propeller: 'Quadcopter'. If: 'Fly by wire', succeeded in keeping airborne intrinsecally unstable and unsteerable designs, there can be no limits in what could be accomplished with a digital control technology that currently is sold in toys starting at around $20.

    A Hungary based company: 'Flike', and Hungary's name doesn't come from 'Hunger', but from: 'Huns', just presented a 'piloted' three propeller copter, video is signed by Bay Zoltan.

    Do the flying platforms, single person devices, ducted fan below, tested by the US Army, belong to the: 'Quadcopter' class?. Also several 'tilting wings' and annular wing flying machine arrangements were tested, the list of 'Concept' and 'Unconventional' aircraft made the pave for many books, but the web is killing this type of paper publications.

    'SkyProwler', is another approach, a mixed Quadcopter and fixed wing design. Bensen B-12 (see 'Aerofiles') is a 1961 example of Multi-Rotor (rather multi-propeller) Quadcopter style machine, patent US49820151 is about the multi fan P Moller design, and patent CA1264714 is about a: 'Robotic or remotely controlled flying platform', also by P Moller. All patents are of open and free access and download in: 'Espacenet'

    Is there a reason why Quadcopter toys couldn't be increased in size, even using the same software for controlling engines and stability?

    Thanks. + salut

    Moller M200 test flight:


    P2 Hoverbike from Malloy Aeronautics:
    enter image description here

    enter image description here

    enter image description here

    what's the usefulness/meaning of the pictures you just added?

    CGC Campbell stated below that enclosed fans would loss function. This is to point his assertion is not fully accurate. The Wing buried Jet Engines in Northrop Flying Wing, also in De Havilland Comet, fulfilled its task too. Federyco: ¿Fondo Europeo de Desarrollo Regional y Comunitario? Gesund +

    If those should be an answer to a comment, they should go in the comments. If those are part of the answer, please add an explanation to the answer around the pictures. Right now they are just noise.

  • For clarification on some of the answers, technology in the area of distributed propulsion is moving towards systems that would allow hybrid quadcopters to be built that eliminate the problems of a gas quadcopter and remove the energy density limitations of electric systems. I suspect we will see experimental human scale quadcopters in the next 20-30 years.

  • e-Volo claims it will use range extender in VC200: http://www.e-volo.com/information/how-long-can-you-fly

    I was really curious about that technology, and did small research. My conclusion is, if they consider using Bladon Jets micro turbine to generate electricity it could be a total win!

    So, it seems, the most advanced turbine they have now is 50 kW, 40-kg jet turbine for concept car: http://www.bladonjets.com/news/bladon-jets-at-the-geneva-motor-show/

    According to wikipedia, Volocopter motros consume ~36 kW (18x2 Kw, see E-volo_VC2) which means, they can be powered directly by electricity produced by turbine without a need for batteries! Of course there must be small battery pack which provides energy buffer for safe operation.

    There is also a datasheet on bladonjets website about the fuel consumption of stationary 12 kW turbine, it's 5 liters/hour. Let's say, their 50 kW turbine will consume 5 times more. Which means, 50 kg of fuel will be enough to fly vc200 for at least 2 hours (not 20 minutes, as they say for pure electric e-Volo).

    Also, total weight of system is not that much exceeded by turbine: 40kg turbine + 50 kg fuel + 50 kg chassy. Well, e-volo can alredy carry 2 people=150 kg, right? So existing prototype can lift the generator as is. 50% stronger motors (18*3 kW=54 kW) is not a problem to lift another 150 kg. Although total weight might exceed 450kg - category of ultralight rotor aircraft, but who says that specially designed turbine can't be integrated in e-volo structure?

    My point is, the technology is there. Just apply it alltogether, and it will make a revolution.

License under CC-BY-SA with attribution

Content dated before 6/26/2020 9:53 AM