Aviation startup Lilium have announced plans to fly an electric ‘jet’ capable of vertical take-off and landing in 2018.

Lilium1Lilium claim that their aircraft, powered by arrays of electric semi-ducted fans, will carry two people over 350nm at 160kts. Ambitious stuff from a company with no previous aerospace pedigree and founded by four engineers with seemingly no prior applied engineering experience outside of academia.

Based in Germany, the company has declared January 2018 as their “rollout date” but details on their website are sparse about what this actually means. The aircraft’s layout is also unconventional, with some renders showing the forward ‘canard’ ducted fans retracted – ostensibly while in forward flight. This presents obvious questions about stability and control, although it looks as though the machine has been conceived to make us of a lifting fuselage. Few details are available on their website other than what must be completely speculative performance figures (targets?) and some very pretty 3-D renders that generate more questions than they answer.

The Lilium Jet is, apparently “the world’s first electric vertical take-off and landing jet.” A bold claim indeed which leaves open the question that if one can claim to have the ‘world’s first’ simply by producing design targets and concept art, the Lilium jet won’t be a record holder for long.

Lilium2

It’s easy to be cynical, but it really is hard to be sure of the validity of Lilium’s claims with such a paucity of detail. Aviation needs radical thinkers and new concepts, like the Hybrid Air Vehicles Airlander. Remember also that the Volocopter was dismissed as vaporware prior to its recent first flight, so perhaps we should reserve judgement. It is also worth remembering though that both of these projects have experienced engineers behind them with backgrounds in applied aeronautics. What ambitious and radical students can imagine is one thing, but there is a yawning gulf between that, and what can be designed, prototyped, safely test-flown and approved, manufactured and sold.

The saying goes that a chasm must be crossed in a leap, not two steps. Here’s hoping that the team at Lilium know what they’re leaping into.