Lilium has lift-off! The world’s first electric vertical takeoff and landing jet, also known as a VTOL jet, has taken its first successful test flight. The two-seater prototype aircraft uses about the same amount of power as an electric car during flight, and its creators are hoping to spark a revolution in global transit.
“We want to establish and build a new means of transportation,” Daniel Weigand, co-founder and CEO of Lilium, said in a company video released Thursday.
The aircraft is unique because it is capable of both vertical takeoff and landing, where the aircraft pushes up against the ground, as well as more conventional jet-powered flight. In the latter mode, the aircraft uses wing-borne lift like a conventional airplane, which means it can move faster than a car and a helicopter. It has a range of 300 kilometers (190 miles) and a top speed of 300 km/h (190 mph).
Because of the dual flight modes that can employ jet power when needed, the machine uses 90 percent less energy than a traditional drone-style aircraft. This could prove valuable in the air taxi space, where Lilium envisions customers ordering an aircraft similar to other ride-sharing services. The VTOL capabilities will mean the aircraft can land on small pads inside cities.
Drone taxis look set to be a big focus for ride-sharing firms over the coming years. Uber outlined a VTOL service in October that would work in conjunction with traditional car services on either side of the flight. The company believes a trip from San Francisco’s Marina to downtown San Jose, normally two hours by car, could take just 15 minutes.
It’s not just long distances that could benefit. In July, Dubai is expected to launch its flying taxi service, using the EHang 184. It doesn’t go as far or as fast as the Lilium, though — with a cruise speed of 37 mph and a total flight time of around 25 minutes, the Dubai service is geared toward very short trips across the city.
Lilium could revolutionize this nascent market through increased range and speed. The company’s team of 40 designers and engineers is working to refine the prototype, with the end goal of a five-seater version with 36 engines, a wingspan of 32 feet and the same range and speed as the prototype.
The team faces an uphill struggle to maintain the same benefits as the two-seater version, though: Richard Pat Anderson, head of the Flight Research Center at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, told Wired that plans to maintain the same specifications for a larger model are “definitely exceeding some fundamental math.”
Watch the Lilium Jet taking off for the first time here: