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Mirror, signal, lift-off. A crewed flight of what many are calling the world’s first flying car took place on 30 March at an airfield in Germany, it emerged today (see video above).

The Volocopter is an electrically powered 18-rotor helicopter that looks more like an overgrown toy drone than a serious aircraft. But its makers, E-Volo in Karlsruhe, Germany, see it as the future of urban personal transport – a safer, cleaner alternative to the car.

The aircraft takes off vertically and is easy to fly. Its control system, developed by Intel-owned Ascending Technologies – also based in Germany – translates the complex controls of a helicopter into the simple up, down, backward and forward motions of a video-game joystick.

“I simply pushed the lever up and the Volocopter sprung upward in a single bound,” says E-Volo director Alexander Zosel, who carried out the test flight. He was even able to let go of the joystick and have the vehicle hover on the spot – which is a key safety measure, he says.

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In its first flight, the Volocopter flew just a few metres up at 25 kilometres an hour. Future flights will test the vehicle at higher altitudes and speeds of up to 100 km per hour.

“This is a fantastic achievement,” says aviation researcher Mike Jump at the University of Liverpool, UK. “It feels like a landmark moment for the creation of a personal aerial vehicle.” Jump is part of the team behind a similar control system for personal flying vehicles called MyCopter, which New Scientist tested in 2014 (see video below).

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