German startup Lilium Aviation says it has completed test flights on the world’s first electric vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) jet at a private airfield in Bavaria. Controlled remotely by a pilot on the ground, the two-seater prototype performed a successful vertical takeoff and transition between its hover mode and forward flight mode.
Although the prototpye wasn’t pushed to its limit — speed and height were restricted by the airspace — Lilium CEO Daniel Wiegand told Digital Trends, “It was a tense moment.”
Lilium first announced its plan to develop its VTOL jet last May, suggesting it could be available to consumers by 2018. These tests are the first demonstration of the company’s technology.
Powered by 36 electric engines, the jet maneuvers using twelve flaps along its wings. A computer controls takeoff, allowing the pilot to take over once the flaps shift horizontally to provide forward thrust. The jet has a range of about 185 miles on a single charge and maximum speeds just over 185 miles per hour, according to Lilium.
To ensure safety, the company designed its jet using the principle of “ultra redundancy.” Each of the jet’s three-dozen engines are individually contained so that no single failure will impact adjacent engines. The aircraft is packed with multiple power cells to compensate for any unexpected battery problems. Meanwhile, a built-in flight system keeps pilots from performing maneuvers deemed unsafe.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Lilium’s electric VTOL is its potential to transform the transportation, much in the way Tesla is tackling the automotive industry, by providing a clean and energy-efficient alternative.
“There is a growing need for transport solutions that are emission free due to worsening urban pollution and global climate change,” Wiegand said. “Congestion and noise pollution are also making our cities harder to live in. The Lilium jet is less harmful on the environment than other existing modes of transport. The jet is a zero-emissions aircraft and requires minimal ground infrastructure.”
After the successful test flight of its two-seater, Lilium is now developing a five-seater for taxi and ridesharing services. The company hasn’t yet put a price tag on its vehicles.