You know how you hail taxis on an app like Uber or Bolt and you get a driver to take you to your destination? There is a chance that you will be able to do the same thing with an electric helicopter soon. A German air taxi start-up, Lilium, recently announced the first test of its electric five-seater aircraft. The company also aims to have “flying cars” around the city within the next year.
Lilium has the ambitions to kick off the first fully operational flying taxi service in multiple cities by the year 2025. The electric aircraft jet has an egg-shaped cabin on the landing gear with a pair of parallel tilt-rotor wings. The wings have a total of 36 electric jet engines that tilt up for vertical take-off. It then shifts forward for horizontal flight. The aircraft, however, has no tail, rudder, propellers or gearbox.
Once completed, the Lilium jet will have a top speed of 300 km per hour and a range of 300 km. The jet’s fixed-wing design also requires less than 10 per cent of its maximum 2,000 horsepower during flight. The Chief Commercial Officer at Lilium, Remo Gerber said: “We are super excited. The first flight went exactly how it was intended to be.”
In 2017, Lilium announced the first test flights of its all-electric two-seater vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) prototype. The prototype was able to demonstrate the shift from vertical to forward flight.
The Lilium Jet five seater all-electric air taxi
Meanwhile, the power-to-weight ratio is a huge consideration for electric flight. Jet fuel gives about 43 times more energy than a battery of the same weight. The batteries currently available do not have enough energy to get most planes off the ground.
Gerber, however, revealed that the Lilium Jet will eventually carry five passengers and a pilot plus luggage. The company plans to keep a human pilot on board the aircraft to enable easier certification process. They are also in the process of securing certification for the five-seater air taxi from the European Aviation Safety Agency. It will also seek application with the US Federal Aviation Administration.
Gerber also explained that the business model will include an app-based feature where customers can book a flight on the phones just like Uber. A 10-minute trip from Manhattan to JFK Airport is estimated to cost $70. Presently, a company called Blade that runs an Uber-type service for helicopters does so for about $195.
At the moment, there are more than 100 different electric aircraft programs ongoing worldwide. A popular one is Kitty Hawk whose models are electric rather than jet powered. Others are Joby Aviation, Airbus and Bell.