The Lilium Jet features two fixed wings – one main wing at the rear and a canard wing at the front. The jet doesn’t have a tail, rudder, oil circuits, gearboxes or variable pitch fan blades. The only moving parts are the engines, which are distributed along the wings to distribute power and generate efficiencies. According to the company’s website, the simple design “makes the aircraft more robust, it makes it safer, it makes it easier to maintain and it lowers the cost to certify, manufacture and operate the aircraft.”
Last fall, Lilium completed its first phase of flight testing, flying at speeds exceeding 62 mph. Its goal is to reach up to 186 mph in one hour on a single charge. The company also built a 9,800-square-foot manufacturing plant for serial production of its eVOTL and is currently building a second facility.
Achieving these milestones takes funding, and Lilium has attracted numerous investors. In late March, the company obtained funding of more than $240 million, bringing the total sum raised in five years to more than $340 million. The newest investor, Chinese multinational conglomerate holding company Tencent, joins existing venture capitalist investors Atomico, Freigeist and LTM.
Sikorsky Innovations, founded in 2010 to advance vertical flight, builds on the long tradition of helicopter production at Sikorsky. “We do not have an active development project for a vehicle specifically at this moment, but we’ve been working on several key technologies,” says Hartman. These include electric propulsion, fleet management and autonomy.
Since 2013, Sikorsky has invested in a technology called MATRIX™, which combines hardware and software components to enable autonomous or optionally-piloted aircraft. “MATRIX allows us to reduce the workload on the pilot, turning stick-and-rudder controls into touch-and-go pilot interfaces,” says Hartman. “As we continue to mature and deploy the technology, urban air mobility is certainly one of those applications under consideration.”
NASA also has several projects related to UAM, although the agency has begun pivoting to the term AAM – Advanced Air Mobility. “AAM reflects that the basic technologies surrounding UAM can enable a whole range of new missions and new cases not restricted to urban areas,” says Goodrich. Goods and people could be transported locally, regionally or interregionally.
NASA’s research and development in AAM is comprehensive. “It cuts across most of the aeronautics areas that NASA has historically worked in,” says Goodrich. “The only things outside the scope of AAM are supersonic and hypersonic flight.”