By Elan Head

An award-winning journalist, Elan is also a commercial helicopter pilot and an FAA Gold Seal flight instructor with helicopter and instrument ratings. Follow her on Twitter @elanhead

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eMagic takes the wraps off its proof of concept eVTOL

Of the hundreds of eVTOL concepts that have emerged in recent years, relatively few have flown in full-scale form, and even fewer with a person on board. Last week saw the debut of a model that has done both: the eMagic One from Germany’s eMagic Aircraft.

The single-seat, tandem-wing plane is strictly a proof of concept aircraft, according to eMagic co-founder Michael Kügelgen. “There is no market — we are not interested in selling this single-seater to anybody,” he told eVTOL.com last week at European Rotors, the trade show in Cologne, Germany, where the eMagic One was unveiled. Nevertheless, he said, it is a “first and very important milestone” on the way to a larger, more capable model that could be used for personal transportation and other missions.

Kügelgen, a mechanical engineer who develops specialized machinery, including a part of SpaceX’s production line, established eMagic in partnership with Thomas Senkel, a physicist who in 2011 became the first person to fly on an electric multicopter when he took to the air on a simple frame aircraft built around a yoga ball.

The company behind that flight, e-volo, evolved into Volocopter, but Senkel exited it after 2015. He and Kügelgen have been collaborating on eMagic since 2018, with Senkel responsible for the aircraft’s propulsion system and battery technology, Kügelgen for the airframe, and a small team of friends and experts supporting other aspects of the project.

eMagic Founders
eMagic founders Michael Kügelgen, seated, and Thomas Senkel. eMagic Photo

The fully electric eMagic One has a maximum take-off weight of 420 kilograms (925 pounds) and a maximum speed of 170 kilometers per hour (92 knots). It has a lift-plus-cruise design, with eight lifting propellers distributed across two rails connecting the aircraft’s tandem wings, and a tractor propeller up front for forward flight. Essentially, it looks like someone dropped VTOL propellers onto a taildragger, and that’s more or less how the aircraft was developed, with its VTOL and cruise capabilities pursued as separate projects.

“The strategy was we developed everything in parallel,” said Kügelgen, explaining that as the company created the core airframe as a conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) airplane, it developed a separate, steel frame hovering platform to work out the complexities of VTOL flight. “It took quite a while to train this funny unit how to fly,” he acknowledged, remarking that “when you start this [type of] project you have to accept failures and rebounds.”

The aircraft’s propulsion systems reflect this segmented approach. The tractor propeller is powered by cylindrical lithium-ion batteries like those used by Tesla, while its lifting propellers rely on high-power pouch cells installed under each electric motor. Future versions of the aircraft will explore interconnected battery systems for redundancy, Kügelgen noted.

Hovering platform
eMagic has been refining the VTOL flight characteristics of its hovering platform for two years. eMagic Photo

eMagic One has an endurance of up to 60 minutes in cruise flight, and four minutes in hovering flight, which Kügelgen said is sufficient for most vertical take-offs and landings. Should it run out of juice, its wings allow it to glide to a safe landing, unlike simple multicopter designs. It also has a ballistic parachute installed in front of the cockpit.

Kügelgen has been flight testing the aircraft in CTOL mode, while Senkel, channeling his yoga ball days, has performed piloted flights of the hovering frame. While the aircraft has been flown in CTOL mode with its lifting propellers installed, its first, remotely piloted VTOL flight occurred shortly before its unveiling at European Rotors.

According to Kügelgen, the next steps for the project will be “very intensive flight tests,” including transitions between hovering and wingborne flight. eMagic One has been flying as a microlight aircraft under German regulations, but the company hopes to pursue full European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification of future, larger models — acknowledging that that “will take quite a while and will cost a fortune,” Kügelgen said.

eMagic One in flight
In CTOL mode, eMagic One has a stall speed of 74 km/h (40 knots). Kügelgen said the aircraft is stable and easy to handle: “It’s a taildragger, but the behavior is very forgiving.” eMagic Photo

While he said the company is already speaking with prospective investors, he didn’t seem anxious to jump on the urban air mobility hype train. For Kügelgen, already a successful entrepreneur, eMagic One is not just a business venture; it’s also a passion project that embodies his lifelong interest in building and flying new aircraft.

“During the last three years I always have been asked: ‘Why the hell are you doing this?’” he told eVTOL.com. “First of all, we love what we are doing especially when it’s related to aircraft, and we like to design new things and to be creative and innovative, and of course we love flying.”

Which is not to say he’s discounting the commercial potential of the technologies that eMagic is developing with respect to autonomy and electrification, which he expects will have transformative impacts on aviation in the years to come.

“Let’s wait and see — there are so many opportunities,” Kügelgen said. “What you should know is that innovative things and new ideas are always totally overestimated in respect of the short-term view, and totally underestimated in respect of the long-term view.”

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