The maiden flight of the Lilium Jet was still quite unspectacular – the aircraft just showed its ability to take off vertically and hover on the spot. The full-scale, full-weight prototype is powered by 36 all-electric jet engines that allow it to take-off and land vertically. For the transition from vertical to horizontal flight and vice versa, the aircraft tilts four bars with several electric motors and relatively small propellers accordingly. These bars are attached to the wings and the canards. Since the movements about all three spatial axes are controlled by the motors, the aircraft has no conventional control surfaces like elevator, rudder, or ailerons. Only one moving part in the engine is responsible for the safety of the aircraft.
The aircraft, designed in just two years, achieves a top speed of 300 kmph (186 mph or 162 knots). Since it is not designed as a multicopter, its aerodynamics in level flight resemble more those of a conventional fixed-wing airplane, which results in better fuel efficiency. This, in turn, translates into longer flight range: While multicopter (“drone”) designs consume much of their energy keeping an aircraft in the air, the Lilium Jet can rely on the lift generated by the fixed wing to do this, meaning it will require less than 10% of its maximum 2000 horsepower during cruise flight.
The maiden flight was remotely controlled from the ground; no human pilot was present in the aircraft. Now the flight has been successfully completed, the vehicle will undergo the same rigorous testing procedures as large commercial aircraft, Lillium said in a press release.
The business case for the air vehicle is rather simple: Lillium plans to operate its aircraft as part of an on-demand air taxi service. The service will be based on a smartphone app where users will be able to locate their nearest landing pad and plan their journey. The creators of the air taxi believe that for the passengers, the price will be comparable to what they are used from conventional street taxi services – “just faster”, as the company claims. Commercial deployment is expected to start around 2025.