Lilium Aviation, a startup based in Munich, Germany, has built an electric jet that takes off and lands vertically. Is that a big deal? Yes, it is. One, it eliminates the need for a runway. The Lilium electric jet needs no more room than a helicopter. Any helipad will do. Second, traditional aircraft use a lot of their available power just to get off the ground. Once in the air, they can cruise quite efficiently.
Patrick Nathen, co-founder of Lilium, claims that the battery in its electric jet “consumes around 90 percent less energy than drone-style aircraft. That makes it possible for the aircraft to fly up to 180 miles with a maximum cruising speed 183 mph. “It’s the same battery that you can find in any Tesla,” Nathen says. “The concept is that we are lifting with our wings as soon as we progress into the air with velocity, which makes our airplane very efficient. Compared to other flights, we have extremely low power consumption.”
The craft is powered by 36 separate jet engines mounted on its 35 foot long wings. At take-off, 12 movable flaps are pointed downwards to provide vertical lift. Once airborne, the flaps gradually tilt into a horizontal position to provide less lift and more forward thrust. For now, the aircraft used in the company’s testing program are controlled remotely but Liliun says human pilots will be utilized in the near future.
A five passenger version is the ultimate goal. (The prototype seen in the video seats two.) From a safety perspective, the company says there will be parachutes on board and a “Flight Envelope Protection System” will prevent a human pilot from performing risky maneuvers or flying the aircraft beyond its safe limits.
Is the Lilium just another expensive plaything, a toy for wealthy people to use when they need to get to their executive jets without the hassle of urban traffic? Nathen says no. The company’s vision is for a sort of flying Uber service. Press the call button on your smart phone app, make your way to the nearest launch pad, and be whisked quickly from where you are to where you need to go. Nathen says a 55 minute trip from midtown Manhattan to JFK airport that costs about $55 becomes an easy 5 minute journey that costs about $6 using one of his company’s electric jets.
Nathen believes we are on the cusp of low cost, reliable air taxis thanks to improvements in battery technology and autonomous navigation systems. “We are right now at the magical point,” he says. “We have without a doubt started at the perfect time… This is why you can see a lot of different projects from all over the world.” Many other companies like Siemens and Jet Blue are developing electric aircraft.
Look at the graphic of a hypothetical electric jetport in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. Some will remember similar images on the covers of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics back in the 50’s. After all this time, maybe the future is finally here.
Source: The Verge