The ESA is backing an electric VTOL craft straight from The Jetsons

6 May 2016

A concept image of the Lillum VTOL craft. Image via Lillum

An incubator hosted by the European Space Agency (ESA) has revealed it is backing a start-up working on a futuristic electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) craft that could be bought by the general public.

The Munich start-up called Lilium was taking part in the ESA business incubator and, if all goes according to plan, will be able to have its two-seater environmentally-friendly electric craft available for purchase by 2018.

Founded only in February of last year, Lilium has been busy until now producing the concept with several scale, 25kg prototypes, but is now in the midst of developing its first ultralight VTOL aircraft.

According to the ESA’s explainer on the Lilium, the craft would have a very small footprint on the family home and be capable of fitting into, and taking off, from a typical back garden measuring at least 15sqm.

Using its electrically-powered ducted fan engines, it also means that your neighbours won’t be subjected to the intense noise associated with the take-off of a traditional helicopter.

Mountain flight

A concept mountain flight image via Lilium

Charged through a household socket

As a VTOL aircraft, the Lilium’s fans point downwards to give it the necessary lift, but once at a safe height, the engines will swivel, allowing it to achieve speeds of up to 400kmph at an altitude of nearly 10,000ft.

In cruising mode, the craft is expected to have a range of around 500km and can be charged like modern electric vehicles (EVs) using a household wall socket.

It’s not as easy as driving a car, however, as it being classified as a ‘light sport aircraft’ means that the operator will need a pilot’s licence with a minimum of 20 hours training.

Yet, during takeoff, the craft will be in auto-pilot mode controlled by the Lilium’s internal computer.

Lab test

A lab test with a small-scale Lillum craft. Image via Lilium

Not just for the super-rich

Those near the company’s German headquarters this summer might want to keep an eye on the sky as it has confirmed that after successful half-size prototype tests, it will now begin testing on a full-sized uncrewed prototype.

Speaking of their potential future Jetsons plane, the company’s CEO, Daniel Wiegand, said: “In the longer term, our target is to build an aircraft that not only the super-rich can afford, and that can make private air transportation possible for a much wider number of people.

“With the concept of taking off and landing almost everywhere, we could see that one day our plane will be used for quick and daily transportation, almost like a car today.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic