Two German air taxi companies have announced successful “air trips” at virtually the same time. German automakers are also going about the business of seeking the promised land in the clouds.
Experts think that autonomous flying has the inside track on autonomous driving in the race to become the next big thing in transportation. And why not? There is much less traffic in the air than there is on the ground. At least right now anyway. About 200 companies are working around the world to change this situation. Including ones in Germany.
Last March, a five-seat electric air taxi named Lilium Jet completed its maiden flight in Oberpfaffenhofen, a town near Munich. Today – roughly six months later – the first phase of air tests has been completed. The jet is now capable of flying increasingly complex maneuvers while traveling at more than 100 km/h. It can even pull off the trick of transitioning from vertical to horizontal flight – one of the biggest challenges in aviation and a maneuver that characterizes Lilium.
It is during horizontal flight where the aircraft really shines. It employs the power of the electric motors located on both sets of wings to travel much farther than the competition and their rotor-driven aircraft. The “air device” from Oberpfaffenhofen can cover distances of 300 kilometers, whisking passengers through the sky during fully electric, high-speed regional flights that will complement the short hops it can make within a city area.
The e-airplane is now beginning its second test phase, one in which its speed will be increased. It is a necessary step because the Lilium Jet is supposed to have a maximum speed of 300 km/h, a rate that would make it the fastest electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft in the world.
At the same time, Lilium is making preparations for series production in a newly erected, 3,000-square-meter facility located next to the company’s headquarters. A second, significantly larger building will soon be completed at the location as well. Once operations begin in 2025, both facilities will be able to produce several hundred planes each year.
Urban air mobility with electric air taxis
Lilium is hardly the only company that is developing electric air taxis. Others include a start-up called Volocopter, in which Daimler and Intel have invested money. Based in the southwestern German city of Bruchsal, the company has developed the 18-rotor Volocopter 2X designed to transport up to six passengers.
This hybrid mix of helicopter and drone just successfully completed a test flight with a pilot over Marina Bay in Singapore. It covered a distance of about 1.5 kilometers in nearly two minutes at an altitude of 40 meters. With the help of a temporary infrastructure, all customer processes, ranging from check-in, boarding and takeoff, could be realistically simulated.
The flight was preceded by months of intensive testing. Civil aviation officials in Singapore had worked with Volocopter since the end of 2018 to facilitate the flight.
Daimler is not the only German automaker that is looking skyward. Porsche, for instance, is working with the U.S. plane maker Boeing on an “exclusive” electric vertical takeoff aircraft for urban areas. And Audi is reworking its strategy for urban aviation after making the surprise decision to abandon its “Pop.Up Next” project with Airbus.