A prototype flying taxi from German start-up Lilium has successfully completed its maiden flight paving the way towards airborne commutes.
The five-seater prototype plane is entirely battery powered and comes equipped with 36 jet engines that allow it to take-off and land vertically, while achieving efficient horizontal flight during transit.
In 2017, the company secured $90m (£70m) from investors including the founders of Skype and Twitter to expand upon its design which was initially a two-seat prototype.
The Lilium Jet has a top speed of 300 km/h, a range of 300km and should be able to complete journeys four times faster than its ground-based counterparts.
The developers say its fixed-wing design allows it to achieve much greater energy efficiency than similar vehicles that use a drone-like setup. It means it will require less than ten per cent of its maximum 2,000 horsepower during cruise flight – comparable to the energy efficiency of an electric car, they claim.
The battery-powered aircraft, operated by remote control, took off vertically at a Munich airfield, marking a milestone for the company.
“In less than two years, we have been able to design, build and successfully fly an aircraft that will serve as our template for mass production,” said Daniel Wiegand, Lilium’s co-founder and CEO, talking about the 4 May test flight.
Video footage provided by the company showed the aircraft lifting off slowly and then floating in mid-air. It did not take a spin around the airfield, however, as an earlier two-seater prototype had done in 2017.
More testing and work to win air-worthiness certifications from European and US air safety regulators will follow.
Lilium plans to manufacture and operate the vehicles as part of an on-demand air taxi service which will see customers using an app to locate their nearest landing pad and will be comparable in price to a taxi.
It is betting on convenience, offering passengers a 15-minute check-in before boarding when they want at a landing site, in contrast to the hassle of getting to the airport and fitting in with airline schedules.
“What’s so fascinating about the aircraft is that it doesn’t depend on any ground-breaking battery innovations – it’s part of what is known today,” said Remo Gerber, chief commercial officer, speaking to Reuters.
Lilium, founded in 2015 by Wiegand and three friends from the Technical University of Munich, has raised around $100m from investors.
“The exciting part is that, for the first time in aviation, we can create a customer journey that is end-to-end,” said Gerber.