Lilium Electric Aircraft Promises Greener Skies
An electric aircraft could be a cleaner answer to short-range, city-to-city travel.
In “Back to the Future,” the flying car used by Marty McFly and Emmett “Doc” Brown eventually runs on garbage instead of plutonium. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting pretty close.
Lilium’s electric jet can shuttle passengers from city to city, or rural locale to locale, within a 150-mile radius, in about an hour. Courtesy Lilium
German startup Lilium is crafting an electric battery-powered, seven-seat aircraft capable of traveling 150 miles at about 175 miles per hour, and able to land and take off vertically, like a helicopter or fighter jet.
The plane—which has seen four prototypes since the Munich-based company’s launch in 2015—will provide people with a fast, cost-effective way to travel between smaller cities and rural areas. It will also be emissions-free, a huge improvement over conventional air travel, which accounts for 2.5 percent of carbon emissions generated worldwide, according to data from the International Energy Agency.
“The simplicity of the aircraft design, with no tail, no rudder, no propellers, no gearbox and only one moving part in the engine contributes to the safety and affordability of the aircraft,” notes Lilium CEO and co-founder Daniel Wiegand on the company’s website. “It has also allowed the design team to focus its efforts on creating a magical customer experience in the cabin, from panoramic windows to gull-wing doors.”
Lilium’s founders, (left to right), Sebastian Born, Patrick Nathen, Daniel Weigand and Matthias Meiner, are ready to prove that electric planes have come of age. Here, they’re shown with an early prototype from 2019. Courtesy Lilium
Three dozen low-noise electric ducted turbofan engines supply the Lilium Jet’s cruising power. At 2,000 horsepower total, they’re powerful enough to take the plane up to 10,000 feet. They’re quiet enough to allow the aircraft to meet most noise ordinances and fly at low altitudes over residential neighborhoods—the company says you can’t hear the engines if the plane’s flying at as low as 1,000 feet. This is a key factor in the vehicle’s use as an air taxi, according to Lilium officials.
The company isn’t disclosing many details about the electric airplane’s power source, 72 ultra-fast charging batteries mounted in pairs with each engine, other than that they represent an upgrade of existing technology. Analysts say that’s a mandatory action, given that getting a Lilium Jet off the ground takes almost as much energy as that generated by a Boeing 787’s fuel-driven engines. But once it’s in flight, that power need drops to a mere 10 percent of the batteries’ energy production. In either case, you’re looking at a clean air flight, Lilium executives note.
The Lilium Jet’s size and vertical liftoff capability enable the use of vertiports, small landing sites that can be built near shopping centers, on top of hotels or hospitals, and in rural areas. Courtesy Lilium
Lilium’s goal is to have its jet available commercially by 2024 and operating in multiple regions worldwide by 2025. At least 1,000 planes are expected to be in operation by 2027; the company anticipates profitability by 2026.
Accompanying aircraft development will be the creation of a vertiport, a landing pad that is about the size of a grocery store parking lot. The site’s small size, made possible by the plane’s vertical takeoff and landing capability, further reduces its environmental impact and makes it possible for the jet to land in the inner city, according to Lilium Chief Technology Officer Alastair McIntosh. The company has announced plans to build networks of vertiports across Central and South Florida, as well as in Bavaria, and North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.
Carbon Reduction Stats
2.5% of World Pollution Percentage of carbon emissions generated by current aircraft
1,000 Green Aircraft Number of electric battery-powered planes expect to be in the air by 2027
3 Million Tons CO2 reduction potential of Lilium craft by 2030
“We dream of a world where anyone can fly wherever they want, whenever they want,” Wiegand notes. “We’ve invested a tremendous amount of thought and care into designing an aircraft and a service that will let us deliver this, meeting society’s demands for urban air travel that is quiet, safe, and environmentally positive. Now, we can focus on bringing our vision to life and connecting communities in ways they have never been connected before.”
Lilium is a 2021 Green Builder Media Eco-Leaders award winner. Download the 2021 Eco-Leaders issue to read profiles of other winners of this prestigious award.