A personal electric jet may sound like an idea taken from the science fiction playbook. But this time, it is not. The first ever Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) jet aircraft are not making waves in the aeronautic industry thanks to the innovative minds of a German startup called Lilium Aviation. This group consists of four engineers and a group of doctoral students from a top technological institute in Germany – the Technical University of Munich. The groundbreaking idea is also backed up by European Space Agency which responds to the Agency’s objective to produce a new type of planes easier to navigate than regular helicopters and emits less noise. The creators of the Lilium Jet targets to produce the aircraft for personal use. Other existing VTOL’s are for the military purpose.
The Lilium Electric Jet: A Closer Look
The VTOL aircraft will be equipped with a rechargeable battery that is able to power up its fan engines for up to 320kW. Other features of this personal jet include wing doors, landing gears that are retractable, interactive touchscreen and dashboard, fly-by-wire controls, a massive storage area, and panoramic windows. Its vertical take-off and landing will be supported by a computer system alongside a satellite navigation. This would assist the personal VTOL jet to obtain a good level of automation amid the wind during its take-off and landing. ESA recommends the use of this aircraft only during the daylight and under good or viable weather conditions.
Aside from ensuring a pleasant weather condition for the flight, the said aircraft likewise requires a minimal open space equivalent to a minimum of 225 square meters for both take-off or landing. It must also be flown in an uncongested airspace at 3km in altitude. The jet powered by propulsion produced by 36 ducted monitors, 12 of which is located per wing while the remaining 12 is built in the noses swiveling nacelles. The aircraft will function alongside an output of 435 hp. The maximum speed is at 400kph or 248mph with a 500km cruising range. Another astonishing feature of this VTOL aircraft is that is can reach up to 9000 feet in maximum altitude ceiling.
The Concept of the Lilium Personal Electric Jet
According to the CEO of Lilium Aviation and one of its four founders, their ultimate goal is to design and build an aircraft that can be used effectively in everyday life. The target aircraft is likewise designed to function even with the absence of a complex infrastructure such as an airport. The group has also built the prototype which only weighs a surprising 25 kilograms. The core concept is quite different from the existing personal aircraft today such as the helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. The existing conventional aircraft remains efficient. However, they often require airports due to the space requirements for runways. A distance of 50 kilometers away from the center of the city is also required due to the immense noise these aircrafts produce.
The need for airports is undeniably costly, particularly for short-haul trips. While airports are not necessary for helicopters, the difficulty of navigation remains its primary weakness. Choppers are also generally more expensive to manufacture and maintain. Flying a chopper also generally requires licenses that are expensive and difficult to obtain. As for the Lilium Jet, the Lilium Aviation revealed that it would be classified as a Ligh Sports Aircraft in Euro Zone. This means that a pilot may obtain the license to fly these mini jets after successfully finishing 20 hours of training. The ease of obtaining a license is made possible with the presence of computer technology and advanced batteries embedded in the aircraft.
Other similar inventions from Hungary, Norway, the UK, and Singapore
Although the Lilium Jet is set to the first aircraft to be released for personal use in 2018, there have also been several inventions quite similar to the concept. One of them is the Flike, an invention taken part by the Bay Zoltan NonProfit, a research institute linked to the Government of Hungary. Flike is categorized as a tricopter. With the weight of 240 km, Flike is almost ten times the weight of the Lilium Jet. In April 2016, Flike had already completed its first manned test flight. It managed to maneuver up in the air for 90 seconds while compensating for the wind.
Another breakthrough in the realm of aviation is the colossal multicopter drone designed and built by the professors and students of the University of Oslo. The said copter even set an outstanding Guinness World Record for the remote-controlled multicopter drone with the heaviest payload ever lifted. Aptly called the Megacopter, drone builder Henning Pedersen alongside the students from the said university managed to control the drone and life 61 kilograms of load. The test was executed at the Oslo Science Park. The group behind the record is also determined to break another one by airlifting human via the same multicopter drone.
The United Kingdom is also not far behind when it comes to aviation-related breakthroughs. Malloy Aeronautics had built the Hoverbike. In a Malloy lab just outside the city of London, the first full-sized Hoverboard prototype of developed. This could transport up to 200 lbs of load. The development of the Hoverbike was primarily intended to transport soldiers. Moreover, it would also have another purpose – to be used for surveillance when it hits the ground. Developers of the Hoverbikes are still trying to figure out how to face the neck-and-neck competition against other potential suppliers of the military transport system. Now, the development of Hoverbike has already been transferred to the US.
Another interesting invention is that by a Dutch engineer named Thorstin Crijns. His invention is called Quadro UAS which can carry 59kgs of payload and weighs about 110 kgs on its own. The design was inspired by the podracer Anakin Skywalker used in Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace. Engineer Crijns first started created smaller versions or prototypes before creating a huge civilian drone. Unlike the Lilium Jet which can carry two people at once, the young Dutch;s invention could only transport one person. The large drone is built using hexadecacopter frame and is powered by 16 different engines. The person can only stay at the center of the drone to operate it.
Snowstorm Multicopter Drone
While most of these inventions come from the western hemisphere of the globe, a few bright students from the reputable National University of Singapore are the first ones to invent similar air transport system from the oriental region. The Snowstorm Multicopter Drone was designed by eight students who eventually built the drone from scratch. The project itself took roughly 12 months to be completed. Snowstorm is equipped with 24 motors, 24 propellers, and three lithium batteries that are rechargeable. The frame is made from Kevlar ropes, tubes, aluminum beam and carbon fiber plates. As with the Quadro UAS, this can transport one person and can carry a maximum payload of 70kgs. What automates the flight is the Aerial Vehicle Software (UAV) and this is also responsible for making the vehicle stay in position.
Whether it is for competition, a hobby, or for military use, the development or creation of a battery-operated or electric personal aircraft or drone is inevitable in this day and age. A personal electric jet such as the Lilium aircraft will enable many consumers to travel by air and avoid the heavy traffic in car-centered urban areas. Will the concept of personal flight be authorized in many countries? This is yet to be seen and discovered. As most of these drone-based solutions have not yet been commercialized, it is expected that the Lilium Jet will mark a milestone in the aeronautic industry. Others are expected to follow suit Moreover, this would potentially pave the way towards the creation of commercially available autonomous vehicles in the near future.