What does the future of flying taxi service look like? German startup Lilium believes its five seater, all electric, vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicle will be a big part of that revolution. Just a couple years after demonstrating flight with a single-seat model the company conducted a first flight of its larger jet-powered plane earlier this month and released a video of the test this morning. This is the version the company intends to develop into a commercial offering.
This is the next step in mobility as we perceive it. What we’re trying to accomplish is an air mobility revolution.– Lilium Co-founder Matthias Meiner
The Lilium Jet is designed to carry five passengers over a range of 300 kilometers, with a top speed of 300 km/h. It is very much a commuter vehicle rather than a long-range transport option. The VTOL design allows for operation in much denser environments, similar to a helicopter versus a traditional fixed-wing aircraft. Its all-electric design also significantly reduces noise compared to fuel-burning jet engines, as much as 80% quieter. These characteristics are part of what the company hopes will see the Lilium Jet break through in a crowded market of companies working to develop similar technologies.
Lilium now must pursue certification of the jet with regulators. That is a multi-year process; the company is targeting 2025 for entry in service. Co-founder Matthias Meiner is very aware of the challenges ahead, tempering the excitement of a successful first flight with the knowledge that significant work remains, “First flights are always crucial, but the launch for us is just a small piece in this whole process. The testing will go on, the refinements, the engineering will all continue.” This first flight was just a short hover in place; converting that to forward motion and then to full certification will be significant challenges for the company.
Lilium believes its fixed wing design makes it significantly more efficient than rotary-style drone vehicles at cruise, increasing the range available to the jet. The current model requires a pilot rather than autonomous operation, a move that should ease the certification process. Ultimately the company also believes it can integrate into a regulated airspace management program with its jet, delivering increased mobility to a significantly larger portion of society, and at a cost far below major infrastructure programs such as high-speed rail or highway construction. Most likely both will be needed, but the optimism of Lilium, especially after this successful first flight, is hard to bet against.