German technology company Lilium are developing the world’s first electric jet flying taxi that is designed to ferry people around cities without encountering congestion. The company has announced that the first unmanned test flights have gone well. We could well see these flying machines carrying passengers within the next five years.
The idea behind the Lilium flying taxi is to have a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) electric jet that ferries people around cities. It uses 12 electric motors that blast air through turbines to generate lift for take-off and landing, and once airborne it moves special flaps to take it into flight as one would see on a fixed wing aircraft.
According to the Lilium website, once in flight “The design of the electric engines ensures a very low drag coefficient in cruise flight, leading to a higher speed and range. The energy consumption per seat and kilometer thereby becomes comparable to an electric car – but the jet is 3 times faster.”
The company claims that the airborne taxi will have a range of up to 300km and a maximum speed of 300km/h. This could mean that you can fly from Heathrow airport to the City of London in just a few minutes without encountering London’s famously clogged roads in the process.
It will be somewhat safer than flying by a jetliner too, as the aircraft will have parachutes should there be a systems failure. This will mean a soft landing whatever happens for those aboard.
Not for billionaires!
Reading this blog you may imagine that the technology is only being developed for super rich people who have money to burn yet are time poor. Not at all – the developers are imagining this as a mass transit system and to be affordable for normal people. Instead of paying a hefty fee to a Black Cab driver to drive at 12mph into London you would pay a similar fee only to avoid traffic altogether.
Speaking to Wired, Investor Frank Thelen said, “We want to make our invention accessible to everyone and this only works if we make the Lilium jet the basis of a new transport system, where you can order an aeroplane by an app.”
Though Lilium would not be drawn on the subject, many commentators believe that this technology could end up being bought by ride hailing company Uber. It is certainly known that Uber is researching and developing the concept for itself.
The latest news from Lilium is that it has successfully run unmanned test flights. The company isn’t saying much more than that for now. What it has said is that the electric jets will have to have a pilot on board the aircraft because it is illegal under international law to have a pilotless passenger aircraft.
Given that technology as a whole is moving away from car ownership and into small scale mass transit, the Lilium electric jet fits in with this philosophy. There’s one problem we can see: given how congested our roads have become, how long before our skies become the same…?