Drone & NextGen Technology & Flying Cars

By Scott Spangler on September 25th, 2017

Lilium raises € 10m from AtomicoEternal optimism is a dominant trait among aviation innovators, and nowhere is it more enduring than with those who dream of flying cars. Reading about the latest member of this community, Lilium, which just raised $90 million in financing, the German company described its vehicle, called the Eagle, as a two-seat, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) electric jet. The proof of concept prototype made its maiden flight earlier this year.

The all-electric Lilium Jet’s specs are impressive: 300 kilometer range, 300 kmh speed. For Americans, that’s 186.4114 miles at 186.428 mph. And, says the company, it does this “with less noise than a motorbike.” Its electric jet engines have one moving part.

iPhone showing the Lilium AppWorking in Munich, the designers are now working on the five-seater, which the company is marketing as a taxi. “You won’t have to own one, you will simply pay per ride and call it with the push of a button. It’s our mission to make air taxis available to everyone and as affordable as riding in a car.” Being VTOL, it could operate from small city landing pads no bigger than a downtown pocket park. “By traveling through the air you’ll be able to avoid time-consuming traffic jams, while enjoying a magnificent view.”

This is where the typical “flying car” story takes an interesting turn. “Take off with the push of a button,’ says the website headline. “We are working actively with leading mobility service providers to deliver a seamless user experience from booking through to landing.”

According to the company timeline, from an idea hatched in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2013, the first flight of a half-scale model in 2015, and the 2017 first flight of a full scale model, the first manned flight is planned for 2019, with 2025 as the target for booking a flight.

What most flying car optimists rarely talk about is the pilot, and the challenges of training and certification. Lilium doesn’t address the latter two, but they do mention the need for a pilot in “Safety First. Safety Second.” and mention who’s really going the flying. “In case of an emergency, regardless of the failing component, the computer informs the pilot to land the jet.”

In an emergency, vertical landing would still be possible because of an innovative ultra redundancy provided by small independent components, like the electric jet engines, that work in concert with their neighbors but whose failure doesn’t affect safety of the jet’s stability. Oh, and it has a full-aircraft parachute.

Combining this business model with the developing technology that is integrating drone technology with the Next Generational Air Transportation System, the flying-car skeptic can see a glimmer of success for the effort. It is not a “flying car” meant to be in every suburban garage. It is a VTOL taxi operated by a company (or possible an individual on the Uber/Lyft model) which would require a modicum of training and certification, perhaps on par with the FAA’s drone pilot certification. This will bear watching. – Scott Spangler, Editor

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