Lil­ium: The Air Taxi Becomes Real

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A small Ger­man start-up has fig­ured out how to make the air taxi of sci­ence fic­tion a re­al­ity.

Imag­ine get­ting ready for a busi­ness com­mute that, in the past, you would have com­pletely dreaded. In a past that you can barely re­mem­ber, you would have crawled into your car, made sure you had enough gas for the ride (and enough cof­fee to keep you alert) and headed out. It might have been bumper-to-bumper all the way, and in rush hour it might have taken hours to get less than 40 miles from home. You might have ar­rived frus­trated and ex­hausted at best.

That was the past. In the near fu­ture, what you might be able to do in­stead is take a quick hop to your lo­cal Air Taxi sta­tion, via a ser­vice called from the mod­ern equiv­a­lent of that other old tech­nol­ogy, the smart­phone, just by press­ing a but­ton. You scan your­self and your board­ing re­ceipt for your trip and set­tle into your ul­tra-mod­ern com­muter air­craft. You land at your des­ti­na­tion’s Air Taxi sta­tion fast, trav­el­ing that same 40 miles – that used to take hours – in less than 15 min­utes. This sounds like a dream, but it’s not. At least, it won’t be in the not too dis­tant fu­ture.

In­tro­duc­ing the Lil­ium All-elec­tric VTOL Jet

The com­pany at the cen­ter of the idea, Lil­ium, is the brain­child of founder Daniel Wie­gand along with Se­bas­tian Born, Matthias Meiner and Pa­trick Nathan. All four hail from Ger­many's Tech­ni­cal Univer­sity of Mu­nich. To­gether they founded Lil­ium in 2015 with the goal of com­pletely trans­form­ing the con­cept of short­range air travel.

The air­craft they in­vented is unique in that it is the first fully-elec­tric ver­ti­cal take­off and land­ing com­mer­cial air­craft built for com­muter ap­pli­ca­tions. It fea­tures 36 elec­tric fan en­gines mounted on its wings via 12 mov­able flaps. The flaps go down for take­off and then ro­tate smoothly into a hor­i­zon­tal po­si­tion for for­ward move­ment.

For safety, each en­gine is shielded as a sep­a­rate sec­tion, which pro­tects the pas­sen­gers in the event that a

sin­gle unit fails. The power cells are also de­signed so that even if part of the bat­tery con­fig­u­ra­tion fails, there will still be suf­fi­cient power to bring the air­craft safely back to the ground.

The air­craft is cur­rently be­ing de­signed for top speeds of up to 300 kilo­me­ters per hour, with a cruis­ing range of 300 kilo­me­ters as well.

At that rate, a flight from Man­hat­tan to New York’s JFK air­port would take about five min­utes. That com­pares to al­most an hour of driv­ing.

Be­ing all-elec­tric, the air­craft also means zero emis­sions to get you on your way, if us­ing green elec­tric­ity.

The Busi­ness Model

Even more im­por­tant than the tech­nol­ogy is the busi­ness model for the prod­uct.

Ev­ery­thing about the Lil­ium VTOL Jet was de­signed to di­rectly com­pete with or­di­nary driv­ing, in a cost-com­pet­i­tive man­ner. The cost of the air taxi, its main­te­nance, the take­off and land­ing lo­ca­tions, the soft­ware app to al­low con­ve­nient book­ing at your fin­ger­tips, the es­ti­mated component main­te­nance costs and life­times and the other nor­mal costs of run­ning a busi­ness were all con­sid­ered. The air taxi is ex­pected to pro­vide a pre­mium ser­vice at a cost that does not have to be much more than ground trans­porta­tion. Plus, it is much faster and less frus­trat­ing.

Get­ting the Busi­ness Off the Ground

The idea for the air­craft and the busi­ness orig­i­nated in 2013 in Glas­gow, Scot­land. By 2015, a 1:2-scale pro­to­type was fully op­er­a­tional and tested. Then, in April of this year, the first full-scale pro­to­type took to the air over Bavar­ian skies.

Next on the list is de­vel­op­ing a full-capacity ver­sion of the craft, at the same time as pro­duc­tion and op­er­a­tional is­sues are worked out for the prod­uct. Based on cur­rent sched­ules, the first manned flight of the air­craft is ex­pected to hap­pen around two years from now.

If all goes well, by 2025, only eight years from now, you will be able to book your own Lil­ium jet. In be­tween, there are, of course, a few de­tails to be worked out, such as get­ting through the mazes of reg­u­la­tory agency ap­provals both for the prod­uct and how it will be used.

But for the in­ven­tors who are cre­at­ing the air­craft and see­ing it through, all that should be eas­ily re­solved, at least in some coun­tries. In other coun­tries the bu­reau­cracy and cor­rup­tion may keep out such an in­no­va­tion for many years or even decades.

For the rest of us, who are just wait­ing to take a ride, the Lil­ium VTOL Jet can­not get here fast enough.

For more in­for­ma­tion visit https://lil­

Im­age by abend­stim­mung, CC

Photo by baby­fat0225, CC

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