And another vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft takes to the sky, this time it was the first successful test flight of the Lilium Electric VTOL Taxi.
Who is Behind the Lilium Electric VTOL Taxi?
It seems to be the year of the VTOL, with yet another startup taking to the air. Lilium seems to have an interesting approach compared to that of the Urban Aeronautics hydrogen VTOLs I recently wrote about, and also compared to other personal and public transportation aircraft. The Lilium Electric VTOL Taxi would help such aircraft take off faster as taxis, pun intended.
Daniel Wiegand, Co-Founder and CEO of Lilium, founded the company with three other people — Sebastian Born, Head of Mechanical Engineering; Patrick Nathen, Head of Calculation & Design; and Matthias Meiner, Head of Flight Control — in 2015. The mission is to enable air travel 5 times faster than a car with a VTOL air taxi for up to 5 people.
The Lilium Electric VTOL Taxi will have a range of 187 miles and a top speed of 187 MPH. An on-demand, all-electric airway taxi system that is quiet and potentially relieves us from traffic congestion is something I look forward to.
Lilium opted to stay away from a quadcopter design, although it excels with simplicity. The company believes such a design is not inefficient in cruise flight condition. Instead, the Lilium Electric VTOL Taxi chose a transition aircraft that can fly three times faster and 10 times further with an equal amount of energy and reduced complexity. Lilium aims to raise safety, noise, speed, range, and payload performance while cutting complexity by a third. The company settled on a rigid winged system using a 12 flap system and electric motors.
Think of the Lilium Electric VTOL Taxi as a Harrier Jet with 12 flaps on its wings instead of 4 directional thrust nozzles. Differing from the Aurora’s VTOL approach, each flap carries 3 electric jet engines. What this means is: at takeoff, all flaps tilt down vertically; and once airborne in horizontal flight mode, they gradually tilt to the back of the aircraft and apply a horizontal thrust.
Call For a Lilium Electric VTOL Taxi From Your Smartphone!
The idea is alluring. You could call for a taxi aircraft from your smartphone. Using a network of small landing pads conveniently located within cities, at the touch of your phone, anytime and anywhere, you could hop into a VTOL. It sounds very James Bond-ish.
But the Lilium Electric VTOL Taxi takes the dream further by claiming this mode of air transportation would be less than the cost of a train fare.
Unfortunately, the site doesn’t offer more concrete numbers, but this leads us to believe Lilium is relying on direct route efficiency.
The picture below describes how the company sees its VTOL system as being cheaper than a taxi as well.
Lilium Electric VTOL Taxi & Urban/Rural Development
The Lilium Electric VTOL Taxi hopes to reduce travel times by five, enabling those who live in the countryside to effortlessly commute to the city. As a side benefit, the company believes this will reduce the need for city apartments and increase affordability. This part is going to be tough since many Californian cities now prefer highrises, where they can draw higher housing revenues due to the high density of buildings, compared that of spread out houses.
Lilium also believes this will reduce the need for cars, resulting in less ground traffic and less noise pollution.
The above may sound idyllic, and there are certainly complications possible when it comes to air traffic, sprawl, noise pollution from VTOLs, and the desirability of walkable urban places that are inherently supported by higher density.
Where Lilium has a leg up is that the VTOL infrastructure is already in place, to a certain extent. Many buildings have rooftop landing areas. In order to facilitate the building of takeoff and landing pads, Lilium will provide the requirements and invest in the early planning phase.
Lilium Electric VTOL Taxi Timeframe
All of this is great, but when do we get there? Lilium began the idea in Glasgow, UK, in 2013. It took its maiden flight with the Falcon test flight aircraft in 2015 with a 1:2 scaled prototype. The first full-scale prototype took off this year. By 2019, the company expects to have manned flights.
So far, the Lilium Electric VTOL Taxi seems to be the furthest along in terms of pure electric VTOL aircraft. The idea of an electric VTOL taxi that can come and get you anywhere, any time at the touch of a smartphone could certainly alleviate traffic jams.
All images courtesy Lilium