By David Z. Morris
Germany-based Lilium has released a video showing what it says is the first successful series of test flights of the Eagle, its prototype of a tiny, all-electric jet. Last December, Lilium secured just short of $11 million in funding towards developing Uber-like flight-on-demand to help relieve urban congestion.
It’s not quite a flying car—it doesn’t have a road-driving mode—but the Eagle has much of the same flexibility that makes them appealing. Key to Lilium’s game plan is the vertical takeoff shown in the video, which would allow it to operate without a runway and pick up passengers from rooftops. The Eagle is propelled by electric jets whose thrust is redirected downwards by movable vents for takeoff and landing.
Lilium makes some truly impressive claims for their vehicle, saying that they can achieve a top speed of about 186 miles per hour and a range of 186 miles per charge. Speaking to The Verge, Lilium co-founder Patrick Nathen says the craft uses “the same battery that you can find in any Tesla,” and the company says the Eagle’s in-flight power consumption is comparable to an electric car’s.
The current prototype has two seats and is guided by a human pilot, but Lilium has said it is developing a five-seat version piloted by autonomous systems.
But there are significant obstacles to seeing flying taxis in a city near you anytime soon. Though he has said he might one day tackle electric flight, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has also poked holes in the potential for small aircraft in cities. Among other points, Musk says they’d generate an excessive amount of noise and air disturbance, and could “drop a hubcap and guillotine you.”
The noise problem alone has led to restrictions on urban flight in recent years, with New York City in 2010 curtailing helicopter tours. Electric aircraft, though, will likely be quieter than gas-fueled choppers.
Potential headwinds haven’t stopped recent efforts to develop both small air-taxis like the Eagle, and flying cars proper, which could move on roads as well as through the air. At least four companies have announced prototypes or unveiled production vehicles.