Aviation start-up Lilium has completed maiden test flights of its electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) passenger jet near Munich, Germany.
It’s not often that one start-up brings together so many emerging technologies to create an original solution. Lilium has done exactly that, combining autonomous flight with electric power and VTOL transport. The goal is an emission-free, on-demand aerial transport service.
Since its inception the Lilium concept has raised millions of dollars in venture capital funding. This month that concept became a reality, with successful test flights of a smaller-scale prototype at an airfield near Munich.
In a post detailing the successful maiden flight, the company writes that, “Seeing the Lilium Jet take to the sky and performing sophisticated manoeuvres with apparent ease is testament to the skill and perseverance of our amazing team.”
“We have solved some of the toughest engineering challenges in aviation to get to this point. The successful test flight program shows that our ground-breaking technical design works exactly as we envisioned. We can now turn our focus to designing a 5-seater production aircraft.”
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A maiden flight years in the making
Lilium was founded in 2015 by Daniel Wiegand, Sebastian Born, Patrick Nathen and Matthias Meiner, a team of aviation engineers who met at the Technical University of Munich.
Their shared vision for a revolutionary type of transportation led to the Lilium Jet, a VTOL aircraft capable of carrying passengers further and faster than traditional modes of public transport.
It has an estimated range of 300 km, a top speed of 300 kmp/h, and a zero-emission selling point that could make it an interesting prospect for public transport initiatives in the next few years. These impressive features are the result of a clever design that allows the fixed wings to tilt, switching propulsion between the vertical and horizontal planes.
It’s likely that the Lilium Jet will be manned and able to carry up to five passengers at a time. Although Lilium declined to comment specifically on how its aircraft could fit into conventional air traffic control systems or avoid other aircraft during flight, it has suggested that it will have an ‘ultra-redundancy’ system and that take-off and landing will be automated.
With 36 separate engines and a relatively small number of moving parts, failing components can be compensated for to give the jet time to land safely if anything does go wrong.
The future of transport, on demand?
The team at Lilium has suggested that its electric VTOL jet could revolutionize urban commutes and help to address the poor work/life balance so many people experience.
On the face of it, any futuristic transport with such obvious benefits seems destined to be exclusive to the super-wealthy, but Lilium insists that isn’t the case. The company envisions an on-demand transport service that’s affordable for everyday users – something closer to an everyday taxi service, rather than a luxury helicopter shuttle.
There are several reasons for this affordability. First, it’s hoped that the environmentally friendly nature of the Lilium Jet will encourage substantial investment from public-sector organisations, rather than private-sector companies. Second, because the aircraft will be small and fairly lightweight, it doesn’t require a huge amount of infrastructure – just a system of landing pads that could be placed on rooftops or in open areas. Third, the Lilium Jet’s small number of moving parts means it will require less regular inspections and maintenance than conventional aircraft.
Lilium predicts that its first manned flight will take place in 2019, and hopes that by 2025, its on-demand air transport service will be a reality.
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