Air Taxi Startup Lilium Tests its Prototype 5-Passenger VTOL Electric Jet
There is a lot of innovation happening on the ground in the automotive industry, including the development of self-driving and fully electric cars. There are also many aviation startups that are looking towards the sky, building innovative electric vertical take off and landing (VTOL) aircraft that may someday be used in a commercial air taxi service.
One of those air taxi companies is German startup Lilium. The aviation startup just staged the first successful maiden flight of a five-seater VTOL prototype that it aims to bring into service by 2025.
The battery-powered aircraft, which was operated by remote control, took off vertically at a Munich airfield, marking a milestone for the German startup.
The electric Lilium Jet seeks to revolutionize short-distance air travel. The batteries power 36 all-electric, zero emissions jet engines that face downward like a rocket to enable vertical take-off, then swing to a horizontal position for flight. Once in the air, lift is provided by the wings and the electric jets are used solely for propulsion.
Their electric jet engines produce low vibrations to ensure a smooth and quiet ride for passengers. According to Lilium, the electric jet engines offer a record-breaking power-to-weight and thrust-to-noise ratios, they are the first ever electric jet engines in commercial certification.
The all-electric engine are quiet as well, with a ducted design that Lilium says captures and dissipates noise before it leaves the engine.
Lilium says that lifting off from a standing start like a helicopter uses only a tenth of the energy of a traditional runway take-off, so that even with today's battery technology it can fly up to 300 km (186 miles) in an hour, Chief Commercial Officer Remo Gerber told Reuters.
"What's so fascinating about the aircraft is that it doesn't depend on any groundbreaking battery innovations – it's part of what is known today," Gerber said.
Lilium envisions a fleet of quiet air taxis zipping across crowded cities. The compact aircraft will be able to to fly passengers between cities without the hassle of an airport check-in. The 5-passenger aircraft can wisk passengers from New York to Philadelphia is about 30 minutes.
"In less than two years, we have been able to design, build and successfully fly an aircraft that will serve as our template for mass production," said Lilium's co-founder and CEO Daniel Wiegand of the May 4 test flight.
Lilium was founded in 2015 by Daniel Wiegand and three friends from the Technical University of Munich. Wiegand holds a degree in Aerospace Engineering. He came with the idea of a revolutionary urban air mobility solution during a visit to Glasgow in 2013.
The aviation startup is backed by investors Lilium raised around $100 million led by Chinese technology company Tencent. Other investors include including Atomico, LGT and Obvious Ventures.
Lilium has grown quickly and employs more than 300 people.
The company plans to own and operate its own fleet of air taxis, which will initially be flown by pilots with a commercial license. Over the longer term, Lilium plans to develop a autonomous version that doesn't require a pilot.
Lilium's goal is to provide greater convenience for air travelers, offering passengers a 15-minute check-in before boarding when they want at a landing site as opposed to the hassle of getting to the airport and fitting in with airline schedules.
"We have highly congested cities where we can do things to improve matters," Remo Gerber, Lilium's chief commercial officer, told CNBC in 2017. "We're trying to move from a niche transport vehicle to a mass-transport one," he added.
"The exciting part is that, for the first time in aviation, we can create a customer journey that is end-to-end."
The Lilium Jet is being certified to standards set by independent government bodies including the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in the U.S.
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