Munich-based air taxi startup Lilium has now flown a five-seat version of their electric vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft. With the help of top engineers and business professionals from the automotive and aerospace industries, Lilium has been flying a two-seater prototype for over two years now. However, it was just earlier this month that the full-scale version, which is intended for mass production, took flight.
The Lilium jet features a propulsion system much different than you’d see in your typical commercial jet – it uses not two, not four, but 36 electric jet engines to provide a maximum of 2000 horsepower. These engines tilt on the flaps of the aircraft for vertical thrust throughout takeoff and landing, then rotate to a horizontal orientation for cruise, during which they draw only 10 percent of the maximum output of the electric motors.
While Lilium is the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for the five-seat air taxi, the company also plans to operate a network of ride-sharing aircraft in a similar fashion to Uber; vehicles will be requested via a smartphone app. Lilium intends to use a fleet of their jets to transport customers around metropolitan areas and between neighboring cities as a faster, less traffic-riddled alternative to automotive transportation. While the price of this service is not expected to be comparable to an UberX or other car ridesharing, it is promised to save the customer time. For example, the flight from Manhattan to JFK – a route that VTOL aircraft operator, BLADE, already flies – takes only six minutes, compared to around an hour by car.
Additionally, the regional flights Lilium plans to offer are predicted to be priced comparably to current commercial flights, but will likely be more environmentally friendly due to the production of zero emissions with the use of electric motors. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that flying cars prove to be more energy efficient than gasoline powered cars on trips 21 miles or more in length. The Lilium jet ultimately is expected to have a range of nearly 200 miles, making it one of the most capable air taxis coming to the market in the near future.
Why it’s important: The new five-seater iteration of the Lilium jet marks the aircraft’s base design as it moves forward to mass production. Given this, the aircraft is currently undergoing rigorous testing in order to discover any potential for improvements before the design is finalized. The first flight, while seemingly short, takes a major step toward providing an entire fleet that can be hailed at customer’s fingertips.
Sources // The Atlantic; Lilium