Ready or not, new flying machines are headed our way. Correction, they are already here and a wave of similar entries could follow (see earlier reports). The earliest market-ready arrivals qualify under FAR Part 103. I believe this website needs to report these aircraft, so with pleasure, I announce the following to be perhaps the first multicopter pilot report from “one of us.” Scott Severen is a longtime LSA pilot, the importer of Jabiru aircraft, and the newly-elected President of LAMA, the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association. Scott offers his impressions as one of the very first non-company pilots to fly one of these aircraft. Some call them multicopters (me). Some prefer eVTOL. C’mon, have you said a mouthful like “eVTOL” to any non-pilot? …or even to most pilots? They look at you blankly, “Huh?” Marketers of these aircraft have yet to settle on a catchy word to identify them.
Ready or not, new flying machines are headed our way. Correction, they are already here and a wave of similar entries could follow (see earlier reports). The earliest market-ready arrivals qualify under FAR Part 103.I believe this website needs to report these aircraft, so with pleasure, I announce the following to be perhaps the first multicopter pilot report from "one of us." Scott Severen is a longtime LSA pilot, the importer of Jabiru aircraft, and the newly-elected President of LAMA, the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association. Scott offers his impressions as one of the very first non-company pilots to fly one of these aircraft. Some call them multicopters (me). Some prefer eVTOL. C'mon, have you said a mouthful like "eVTOL" to any non-pilot? …or even to most pilots? They look at you blankly, "Huh?" Marketers of these aircraft have yet to settle on a catchy word to identify them. "Drone" is still widely used but it's not specific enough for man-carrying aircraft. So, I'm sticking with multicopter for any aircraft that does not pivot its wings or powerplants. If you prefer, insert your term of choice whenever I write multicopter. Scott has the titles I referenced above but he is also a very experienced hang glider, Part 103 ultralight, microlight, and LSA pilot with experience across the aviation spectrum for nearly his whole life (his father was U.S. Air Force). Scott knows more about light aircraft than most other individuals on the planet. I consider him an excellent choice for this pilot report on Lift Aircraft's Hexa. Enjoy! —DJ
A New Way of Flying …eVTOL… YES, YOU CAN!A new kind of ultralight is emerging. Unfamiliar flying machines combine familiar ideas with new technologies — sometimes created from scratch — to provide a fresh new opportunity for more people to safely achieve one of man’s oldest dreams. The Ultralight eVTOL, or multicopter, is a battery-electric vehicle with multiple motors and rotors (propellers). Being ultralight, they are single occupant and, yes, they are easy to fly with some training. No FAA pilot certificate is required. How do you prepare for this new sensation of flight? Simulators are an excellent training tool and Lift Aircraft uses them to great benefit. With or without previous flight experience, just a few minutes of Hexa sim time builds your confidence creating excitement about flying Hexa. While sims are great for preparation and familiarization, they do not re-create real life experience gained by flying. Just ask the sim pilots that tried to re-create Sullenberger’s flight when he chose landing on the Hudson River.
Describing HexaWhile simple in appearance, Hexa requires a preflight as any pilot would expect. Hexa is an all-carbon structure, using an overhead set of 18 independent motors, each with its own battery. These elements are easy to visually inspect. While the powerplants are independent to prevent failure propagation, they are orchestrated to play as a team, forming a so-called distributed electric propulsion system that handles maneuvers around the different flight axes. Each motor and propeller is strategically canted just off the vertical — all tilt slightly away from center — to aid control effectiveness. Controlling power at each motor alters the flight motion. Redundancy Redefined — Hexa can lose up to 6 random or 2 adjacent powerplants and still maintain normal flight, engineers report. Hexa employs three redundant control systems. If one system has a glitch, number 2 takes over, and so on. Designed differently from other Part 103 ultralight eVTOLs, Hexa is tall. The cabin structure is affixed to the “overhead powerplant.” Landing gear are fastened below and perform double duty as floats. To assure stability for a vertical take off and landing aircraft, six gear legs ending in floats are spaced around the perimeter. A seventh float is under the cabin. These allow landing on water and are energy absorbing on terra firma. Stepping up into the cabin, you buckle the four-point pilot restraint. A windshield moves air around the pilot but the sides are open and lend a very “out there, open cockpit” feel.
Cockpit "Interface"The nearby image depicts how the Flight Screen and Control Systems are presented on Hexa, and how you interact with Hexa. Such information systems are unique to each Part 103 ultralight eVTOL. (Scott has examined several Part 103 eVTOLs as part of LAMA's program of providing a Technical Standards Committee to review aircraft wishing to approach FAA to qualify as Part 103 vehicles. Scott's experience is rare. Few industry people have scrutinized several of these entries. —DJ) Hexa's 12.1-inch touch-screen displays flight and powerplant information:
- wind direction/speed
- flight direction
- altitude expressed in AGL (Above Ground Level)
- how much flight time (battery) remains
- back-up button controls for Takeoff, Land, and Go Home
Take Off and LandingAfter a systems check and initialization, you are ready to “start your motors.” If you have multiengine training, this may sound like an unusual step, but Hexa makes it easy. You start all 18 motors at once resulting in a soft buzz, all in surround sound. Pressing the Take Off button on top of the joystick initializes the launch sequence and lifts you to about 10 feet in the air. At this point you set about your flight. You just toggle the up/down switch until you get to the desired altitude, then release. On my flight, I chose up to about 30 feet as the winds picked up to between 10-15 miles per hour. I found it interesting that since Hexa uses GPS for its position, it tilted into the wind just enough to keep me centered above the take-off spot. It doesn’t matter what direction the wind is coming from, Hexa tilts into the wind enough to do its job… technology wonderfully applied. Next, I practiced yawing left and right. A helicopter can do this maneuver, but it is simple in Hexa: you just move the switch on the front of the stick in the direction you want to twist. With no other inputs Hexa holds its position faithfully above the initiation spot, as though a plumb bob was hanging below. I found the flight experience very comfortable. Flight Time — Typical battery range is about 20 minutes. This term depends on how much power you use for maneuvers: the more you climb, the more power is used; the more level flight at slower speeds, the less power you use. Some will say 20 minutes is far too little but for what Hexa is attempting today, that may be sufficient. "Coasting" in flight — With forward flight, or movement in any direction in the same plane, one thing you learn is how far you “coast” when you return the stick to neutral (or just let go of it; it will go back to center). "Sliding" is another neat trick. It’s so easy in Hexa. Move the stick left and slide sideways to the left. I have to say, backing up in the air is an intriguing sensation. Just pull the stick back, a little or a lot. On my flight, I was geo-fenced, so there was no worry about backing into anything, though Hexa also has sensors for collision avoidance. You can see behind you a bit just by rotating your head and body. I didn’t loosen the pilot restraint to allow torquing my body out of the cockpit to see directly behind. Once you’ve mastered the basic maneuvers, you can manipulate the controls to interact in many interesting ways. You can fly forward (or backward) while yawing/pirouetting. You can fly a “facing forward” square: forward stick, up button, aft stick, down button. You can finesse the controls to make a giant vertical circle, like on a Ferris Wheel, or you can scribe a lateral circle. You can fly forward and climb, then reverse the actions and go backwards “downhill.” Or, you twist around to see your descent. Imagine a 3-dimensional dance floor… Hexa presents a moving map on the glass display, though all I referenced was how much battery remained. I found so much to enjoy outside of the cabin but not to worry, Hexa will take you “home” to your lift-off spot before you run out of battery. It’s pretty smart that way. After my encounter with Hexa, let me assure you, you really won’t want to stop flying this machine! Hexa is a blast to fly and no flight experience is needed. A high confidence level comes quickly, supported by the inherent safety of all the redundant systems including a ballistic airframe parachute, one optimized for Hexa's common low altitude of operation. This parachute system is autonomous; it fires if it senses a non-recoverable situation. A pilot does not really have time to assess the situation then pull a handle from 40 feet in the air. You won’t want to miss an opportunity play in the skies with Hexa when you get the chance! The company plans tours to get more people airborne in a Lift Hexa
Thanks, Scott, for that fun look at Hexa. I don't know about you but when I'm anywhere near one of these whirlybirds, I'm going up in it! —DJ
- Earlier article with lots of facts and info about Lift Hexa, from January 2022
- Lift Aircraft, contact info and all content on this website
- US Sport Planes, Scott Severen's Jabiru import business
- LAMA, the Light Aircraft Manufacturer's Association, organization website
- Multicopter articles, published on this website