Lilium: The Air Taxi Becomes Real
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://lilium.com