The once fanciful concept of flying cars appears to be a step closer to reality, after a German company completed successful test flights of a “flying taxi”.
Munich-based Lilium, backed by investors who include Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström, said the planned five-seater jet, which will be capable of vertical take-off and landing, could be used for urban air-taxi and ride-sharing services.
In flight tests, a two-seat prototype executed manoeuvres that included a mid-air transition from hover mode – like a drone – to wing-borne flight – like a conventional aircraft, Lilium said.
Potential competitors to Lilium Jet include much bigger players such as Airbus, the maker of commercial airliners and helicopters that aims to test a prototype self-piloted, single-seat “flying car” later in 2017.
The Slovakian firm AeroMobil said at a car show in Monaco on Thursday it would start taking orders for a hybrid flying car that can drive on roads. It said it planned production from 2020.
But makers of “flying cars” still face hurdles, including convincing regulators and the public that their products can be used safely. Governments are still grappling with regulations for drones and driverless cars.
Lilium said its jet, with a range of 190 miles and cruising speed of 186mph, is the only electric aircraft capable of both vertical take-off and jet-powered flight.
The jet, whose power consumption is comparable to an electric car, could offer passenger flights at prices comparable to normal taxis but with speeds five times faster, Lilium said.
Other potential rivals include the crowd-funded e-volo, a firm based near Mannheim that has said it expects to receive special regulatory approval for its two-seat “multicopter” with 18 rotors to be used as flying taxis in pilot projects by 2018.
Terrafugia, based outside the US city of Boston and founded 11 years ago by MIT graduates, aims to build a mass-market flying car, while the US-Israeli firm Joby Aviation has said it is working on a four-seater drone.
Google, Tesla and Uber have also reportedly shown interest in the new technology.