Last year, European start-up Lilium set out to develop the world's first all-electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) jet; now that electric jet has taken its maiden flight. The two-passenger aircraft did not have any pilots for the test flight and was controlled remotely from the ground.
With a range of 300 km (186 miles), speeds up to 300km/hr (186 miles/hour), and the ability to take off and land in a 50 square foot space, the Lilium jet opens up the real possibility of commuting by air for consumers that live long distances from their place of work or have drives with heavy traffic congestion. For example, commuting from from Manhattan to New York’s JFK Airport will take around five minutes, compared to 55 minutes driving and a flight from London to Paris will take an hour.
The Lilium jet is classified as a Light Sport Aircraft for two passengers and only requires 20 hours of minimum training, similar to a driving course. It takes off and lands vertically, like a helicopter, and then converts to horizontal flight once airborne. Unlike some other electric aircraft designs which use a hybrid fuel approach, the full-scale prototype is powered solely by 36 small electric propellers mounted to its wings on 12 movable flaps. The electric jets function like a turbofan, sucking in air, compressing it, and expelling it out the back to provide propulsion. The flaps rotate to convert between vertical and horizontal flight. When flying horizontally, the wings provide all of the lift as with traditional airplanes.
As the jet is designed for consumer use, safety was a key design element. A computer notifies the pilot to land in of an emergency, regardless of the failing component. Each component operates independently, so a single engine failure does not jeopardize safety or stability. The jet can even land safely in the event of multiple engine failures.
The jet completed a series of test, in addition to what can be seen in the video released by Lilium. The company also used the occasion to announce plans for a five seat version, which could be used for ride sharing, or as an air taxi.