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HomeFEATUREDFORGET UBER. ORDER A LILIUM JET

FORGET UBER. ORDER A LILIUM JET

Frank Stephenson, the designer of some of the world´s most iconic cars, is joining Lilium as Head of Product Design. While the name Frank Stephenson may ring a bell for motoring enthusiasts – he designed the BMW X5, MINI, Ferrari F430, Maserati MC12 and McLaren P1 – the name Lilium Jet may simply draw a blank stare. That is about to change as this young start-up begins to gain traction.

Having raised more than $100 million in funding, Lilium is leading the race to develop the world’s first all-electric jet capable of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), with the aim of delivering an affordable on-demand air transport service to cities around the world.

Founded in 2015 by Daniel Wiegand and three fellow-academics from the Technical University of Munich, the group shared a vision of an entirely new type of transportation. In less than two years, this group of young geniuses went from concept to prototype with the Lilium Jet, the first zero-emission electric jet capable of VTOL, taking to the skies over Germany in April 2017. The two-seater prototype executed a range of complex manoeuvres, including its signature mid-air transition from hover mode to wing-borne forward flight.

“In just two years we’ve taken our idea of this incredible aircraft from a piece of paper to the skies above Bavaria. Now that we have the technology, we need to grow our business so that it can fulfil our vision to revolutionise on-demand mobility for everyone,” said Daniel Wiegand, Lilium co-founder and CEO.

HOW THE LILIUM JET WORKS

The Lilium Jet is a lightweight aircraft powered by 36 electric jet engines mounted to its wings via 12 moveable flaps. It is unique in combining the benefits of VTOL, offered by helicopters and drones, with the speed and range of a jet aircraft.

At take-off, the jet’s flaps are pointed downwards to provide vertical lift.
Once airborne, the flaps gradually tilt into a horizontal position, providing forward thrust. When the wing flaps are flat, all of the lift required to keep the aircraft in the air is supplied by air passing over the wings, similar to a conventional fixed-wing aeroplane.

The beauty of this system is its simplicity. In comparison to existing concepts, the Lilium Jet requires no gearboxes, no foldable or variable pitch propellers, no water-cooling, no aerodynamic steering flaps and, since the engines provide differential thrust, no stabilising tail.

SAFETY FIRST

With safety first and last, the Lilium Jet is designed along Lilium’s principle of Ultra Redundancy. As such, the aircraft’s engines are individually shielded so that the failure of a single unit cannot affect adjacent engines.

The jet’s battery cells are designed to continue delivering sufficient power for continued flight and a safe landing in the unlikely event that part of the battery configuration fails. Lilium’s Flight Envelope Protection System prevents the pilot from performing manoeuvres that would take the aircraft beyond safe flight parameters.

And, in the unlikely event of a catastrophic systems failure, the Lilium Jet is equipped with a full aircraft parachute and a water-resistant cabin in case of descending onto water.

UNHEARD OF EFFICIENCY

The Lilium Jet is 100% electrically powered, making it the only electric aircraft capable of both VTOL and jet-powered flight. According to Lilium, this advanced capability consumes around 90% less energy than drone-style aircraft, enabling the Lilium Jet to achieve a range of more than 300 km with a maximum cruising speed of 300 km/h.

In flight, the Lilium Jet’s power consumption per kilometre will be comparable to that of an electric car, and for take-off and landing it only requires a small open space or landing pad, like the roof of a building. Lilium is confident that the combination of energy efficient flight and minimal ground infrastructure will enable passenger flights with comparable pricing to regular car taxis over the same distance.

ON-DEMAND AIR TRANSPORT

A typical journey by Lilium Jet could be as much as five times 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 five minutes, compared to at least an hour driving in normal traffic. The ability of the Lilium Jet to travel long distances quickly and at low cost may also open new opportunities for people to live further away from their place of work.

Lilium describes this phenomenon as increasing the radius of living by five times. “Lilium is going to revolutionise city travel by moving journeys from the ground into the sky. The technology that they have already developed is truly mind-boggling. My job – as we accelerate towards production and a roll-out of the service – is to develop a design that will make it not just an efficient service but a supremely well designed one,” said Frank Stephenson.

LAST WORD

Lilium is now developing a larger, five-seater Jet, designed for on-demand air taxi and ridesharing services. With money in the bank, serious brain power in the boardroom, and a horde of senior executives recruited from the likes of Tesla, Airbus and Gett, Lilium looks set to become a disruptive presence in the both the aviation and auto industries as it aims to liberate towns and cities from congestion and pollution, while opening new vistas for air transport.

In 1894, Otto Lilienthal began experimenting with the first gliders and imagined a future in which we could all fly wherever we want, whenever we want. Lilium may well turn that dream into reality.

Report by WILHELM LOOTS | Images © LILIUM

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