Lilium Aims to Make Personal Home Aircraft a Reality
Tanya Trofimencoff posted on July 21, 2016 |
Another ambitious flying car design that’s unlikely to reach the mass market.
(Image courtesy of Lilium.)
(Image courtesy of Lilium.)

The idea of a flying car has captured imaginations for decades.

Who wouldn’t want to trade tedious trips to the airport for simply stepping out of the house and into your own private aircraft?

A startup company, hosted in a European Space Agency (ESA) business incubator, is the latest to attempt to make that dream a reality. The Lilium electric plane is designed to seat two people, fly quietly and aims to be simpler than aircraft designs today.

Daniel Wiegand, Lilium CEO and one of the company’s founders, said, “We are going for a plane that can take off and land vertically and does not need the complex and expensive infrastructure of an airport. To reduce noise and pollution, we are using electric engines so it can also be used close to urban areas.”

The concept has been proven with several 25-kilogram prototypes, and the company is on to the next step: developing a full-size ultralight vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.

Removing the Bottlenecks to Personal Aircraft

Making conventional aircraft available within the city for personal use is a challenge, since they are unacceptably noisy and require extremely long runways. Hence, the requirements for airports constitute an expensive bottleneck for this type of transportation.

Moreover, the need to land and take off from airports effectively doubles travel time. Even though helicopters can take off anywhere, they are noisy and difficult to fly and there is no backup safety feature in case of rotor failure. Helicopter maintenance and operation is also complicated and expensive.

(Image courtesy of Lilium.)
(Image courtesy of Lilium.)

In contrast, Lilium requires a takeoff area of about 15 x 15 meters and can reach flight speeds of up to 400 kilometers per hour. This is achieved by combining helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft designs with the goal of breaking away from the restrictions of taking off from airfields.

The ducted fan engines would also enable much quieter takeoff and landing than helicopters, while the batteries, engines and controller redundancies allow them to surpass helicopters in terms of safety.

Obtaining a helicopter license is extremely expensive and time consuming, while the Lilium should require a pilot license with only 20 hours of training. The initial goal is for recreational use in the daytime in good weather conditions.

A Plug-In Airplane

The Lilium aircraft battery is designed to recharge from any wall plug and has a range of 500 kilometers.

It will be equipped with a touchscreen, operated with a joystick and has retractable landing gear, wing doors and panoramic windows. The company also plants to include storage space to bring groceries along for the ride.

The Lilium aircraft features ducted fans on its wings. (Image courtesy of Lilium.)
The Lilium aircraft features ducted fans on its wings. (Image courtesy of Lilium.)

“The half-size prototype is already flying and now under test, and the full-size unmanned prototype is planned for this summer,” said Thorsten Rudolph, CEO of Anwendungszentrum GmbH Oberpfaffenhofen (AZO), which runs the incubator where Lilium was conceived.

Initial production is expected by 2018, with significantly lower running costs than similar aircraft available today.

Of course, a high volume of these aircraft in urban areas would potentially make air travel in the city extremely dangerous. For that reason, it seems unlikely that Lilium will reach the mass market, but it could be an appealing travel option for the wealthy elite.

For more information, visit the Lilium website.

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