Lilium first emerged in 2016 as an aviation startup with some very lofty ambitions, revealing plans to develop a five-seat electric aircraft that can take off vertically, switch to horizontal flight in mid-air and cover some sizable distances on each charge. The company has now taken a significant step toward achieving this goal, completing a flight of a full-scale prototype of its Lilium Jet for the very first time.
Germany-based Lilium sprung out of a business incubator at the European Space Agency (ESA) with the aim of developing a clean and quiet answer to the prickly problem of urban congestion. While there is obviously no one single solution to this, Lilium's approach was to chip away at the problem with an all-electric flying taxi that can be hailed through a smartphone app.
The aircraft would come down and land on pads stationed around cities and regions, and whisk passengers away to their destination, or close to it, without adding to a city's pollution, noise and traffic on the ground. Rather than the 55 minutes it takes to travel from JFK Airport to Manhattan by car, the Lilium Jet could theoretically deliver passengers in five minutes. Or traveling from New York to Boston in one hour, is another possibility.
With retractable landing gear, fly-by-the-wire controls and a grand total of 36 electric jet engines, the Lilium Jet is capable of taking off vertically in confined spaces by directing the airflow downwards. It can then shift these flaps to direct airflow over the wings to propel the aircraft forward horizontally. In this state, the jet will apparently be able to travel at 300 km/h (186 mph) and cover 300 km (186 mi) without needing to recharge.
In April of 2017, Lilium managed to demonstrate this mid-air transition maneuver, from hovering to forward flight, with a two-seater prototype. Later that year it gathered US$90 million in funding to move ahead with the development of the five-seater prototype, and has today revealed the fruits of that labor. The reveal follows the full-sized Lilium Jet's maiden flight earlier this month, where the aircraft was controlled remotely from the ground to lift off and hover above its landing area.
"While a maiden flight is always a moment of truth for a business, the Lilium Jet performed exactly as expected and responded well to our inputs," says Daniel Wiegand, Lilium co-founder and CEO. "Our flight test program will now continue with increasingly complex maneuvers as we look towards our next big goal of achieving transition flight, which is when the aircraft moves seamlessly from vertical to horizontal flight."
Lilium hopes its air taxis will be servicing cities around the world by 2025, where the cost per trip would be comparable to that of a traditional taxi cab. It does, however, plan to kick off trials earlier than that and, despite its optimism, how air traffic regulators will accommodate these plans is an unknown.
"We dream of a world where anyone can fly wherever they want, whenever they want," says Wiegand. "We've invested a tremendous amount of thought and care into designing an aircraft and a service that will let us deliver this, meeting society's demands for urban air travel that is quiet, safe and environmentally positive."
The video below shows the full-sized Lilium Jet take off for the first time.
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