The myCopter SkyRider above may look like something from a sci-fi movie but it’s actually a real project funded by the European Union.

It was unveiled this week by researchers at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum for Luft- und Raumfahrt, or DLR for short). The DLR-developed myCopter steering wheel system, which allows users to operate tomorrow’s aerial vehicles almost like cars, is the highlight of the development.

Other areas also being studied are collision prevention, swarm flight and pilot training. The project also sought to learn more about the opportunities and challenges of an accessible personal air transport system.

The researchers focused on fundamental technologies and concepts. In future, the plan is that special aircraft, known as Personal Aerial Vehicles (PAVs), will enable people to go where they need to go by air. But for this to happen, the pilots will need a more efficient and intuitively designed control system. One of the greatest challenges is engineering a control system that enables anyone to fly future PAVs.

“At the moment, the control systems found in modern helicopters are complex and using them requires a great deal of training,” says Stefan Levedag, Head of the DLR Institute of Flight Systems. “But we have now managed to develop a steering wheel based control system – with automatic control technology behind it – that makes flying far simpler.

“The range of possible applications extends way beyond PAVs, bringing clear benefits to other airborne vehicles as well,” he continued.

The theory is that drivers are perfectly familiar with how to steer a car. The plan is to use this wealth of experience to create a more intuitive system for aircraft control with the aim of substantially simplifying the training required for future PAV pilots.

DLR researcher Bianca Schuchardt shows the simple steering wheel control system in myCopter.

Steering wheel in the helicopter simulator
‘Take four and make three’ was the underlying concept behind the new steering wheel for helicopters.

“Until now, helicopter pilots have been required to monitor all four control axes,” explains Bianca Schuchardt from the DLR Institute of Flight Systems. “This takes absolute concentration, especially when hovering, as a pilot must operate both sticks and pedals at the same time to maintain a stable position in the air.”

The cyclic stick – responsible for movements about the longitudinal axis (roll) and the transverse axis (pitch) – is missing from the myCopter steering wheel system. “Instead, the pilot simply turns the steering wheel as required to fly the helicopter in the intended direction,” Schuchardt continues.

myCopterOne stick remains, exclusively responsible for altitude. Alternatively, this aspect could be controlled using a paddle fitted to the steering wheel. Just as with the accelerator and brake in a car, the pedals control speed and can even cause the vehicle to hover.

An eight-way switch on the myCopter steering wheel controls reverse and lateral flight. The steering wheel has already completed its maiden flight in the virtual environment of the Air Vehicle Simulator (AVES) operated by DLR in Braunschweig. The next stage will involve actual flight-testing of the system using the DLR ACT/FHS research helicopter, which is based on a Eurocopter EC 135.

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