Uber’s specialist Elevate team may have received the most coverage for pursuing on-demand air-based taxis, but Lilium appears closest to reaching our skies after completing initial tests of its electric-powered vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) jet.
The current tests are unmanned and conducted remotely in a two-seater prototype, but the next goal for Lilium is to produce a bigger five-seat version of the vehicle. It will be the five-seater which Lilium envisions will be used for airborne ride-sharing and on-demand taxi services.
For the current prototype's maiden flights, Lilium took off from a German runway and performed several maneuvers in the skies before safely returning. While a runway was used for safety purposes, because of the aircraft’s vertical takeoff abilities it won’t be necessary for when it’s authorised for use in the city.
“Seeing the Lilium Jet take to the sky and performing sophisticated maneuvers with apparent ease is a testament to the skill and perseverance of our amazing team,” says Lilium co-founder and CEO Daniel Wiegand. “We have solved some of the toughest engineering challenges in aviation to get to this point.”
Using its wings for lift, like an airplane, Lilium claims its aircraft uses around 90 percent less energy than a drone-style aircraft. When it’s ready for takeoff, flaps on the wing point downwards for vertical lift. At the desired altitude, the flaps then move into a horizontal position to achieve forward thrust.
The current vehicle is able to cover 300km (186 miles) at a maximum cruising speed of 300km/h (186mph) which Lilium says its power consumption per kilometer is similar to an electric car travelling on the ground.
A typical journey by Lilium Jet will be at least 5x faster than by car, with even greater efficiencies in busy cities. For example, a flight from Manhattan to New York’s JFK Airport will take around 5 minutes, compared to 55 minutes driving. The ability of the Lilium Jet to travel long distances, quickly and at low cost, will also open new opportunities for people to live further away from their place of work.
“The successful test flight programme shows that our ground-breaking technical design works exactly as we envisioned. We can now turn our focus to designing the five-seater production aircraft,” concludes Wiegand.
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