Let’s admit it, the majority of the people who grew up with late 20th-century sci-fi are probably disappointed to realize that there are no flying cars today. While there have been efforts to make this dream a reality, it is yet to take place in a form that we have imagined for so long.
That is, until the introduction of the Lilium Jet! Okay, maybe not, but it at least gives yet another promising concept that might just bring flying cars into the realm of practicality.
A (Test) Flight Like no Other
Lilium Aviation, a Munich-based company has been working on an all-electric two-seater VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) aircraft for the last few years. Not just the hobby type that we’ve already seen hundreds of times, but one that is designed to ferry passengers across designated points via its own navigation system.
Just very recently, the company has successfully achieved a breaking milestone of feasibility: actual test flight of a completed working prototype. As seen in its first flight in the video, it uses a total of 36 electric motors arrayed on the wing, and on the retractable compartments (formerly wings) at its front. Much like a V-22 Osprey, it uses the motors both to lift it off the ground and to provide thrust, tilting the angle of the engines upward or downward as needed.
According to Lilium Aviation’s presented stats, the Lilium Jet is capable of cruising at about 300 km/h (186 mph), and also has an average range of 300 km (186 miles). Batteries are claimed to be of the typical Tesla car variety, which as an electric vehicle, is supposed to be on par with current electric vehicles. Most notably, it is designed for automated use, a point and drop convention, much like how another upcoming flying car/giant drone is planning to give passengers the easy cruise.
Multi-Engine is the Meta?
As one may have noticed, the use of multiple smaller engines seems to be a peculiar design choice, given that most recreational VTOL designs today typically fall on the more popular stabilized quad-rotor configuration. However, as claimed by Lilium Aviation, the use of such unique configuration is the optimal choice to balance its speed and control.
The company points out, that while quad-rotors are indeed stable and common, it uses way too much energy and provides smaller forward thrust compared to other faster VTOL designs. The use of smaller engines within the contours of the craft’s aerodynamic profile allows for better speed, while still maintaining the control and stability that VTOL designs need.
In fact, we’ve seen another certain military research group fiddle with the same technology that uses almost the exact same technical principle. Yup, that very video above. DARPA’s X-plane prototype kinda overkills with the configuration, but at least we know that it is a concept that even the military is considering to be worth the research.
Air Taxi or No Air Taxi
One interesting claim that Lilium Aviation had about its upcoming air taxi is that, given proper deployment, it can cut down a typical 55-minute taxi ride into a 5-minute all-electric ride that will only cost about $6. Too good to be true? Probably not. After all, its team aims for its regulated use as a ferry vehicle. So, the company has every incentive to get it high off the economic ground, at least if the concept ever gets to the point of public implementation.
Then again, if it doesn’t, then we’d probably still see the concept in some other less ambitious fashion. Implementation of flying cars isn’t just about technology anyway. We still have to work out many of the technicalities of urban transportation in three dimensions, particularly in the private sector, where driverless cars are already beating their human operators in practical reliability.
Source: Lilium Aviation