Personal electric plane won't need an airport

Backed by the ESA, the "Lilium" will take off vertically and fly at 250 mph.

Now that hoverboards are an honest-to-god thing, we have to say we're pretty disappointed with how flying cars have worked out. Another company has jumped into the fray with a vertical take-off plane called the Lilium that can soar at 400 km/h (250 mph). We'd normally say they're dreaming with the specs: A 10,000 foot ceiling, 500 km (310 mile) range and helicopter-like takeoffs, all on battery power. However, it's hosted by a European Space Agency (ESA) incubator and the team from the Technical University of Munich plans manned tests next year.

The Lilium has wings and flies like a regular plane, but takes off like a helicopter by swiveling its ducted fan engines, much like DARPA's VTOL X-Plane concept. The engines, batteries and controllers are all redundant for safety, and it can take off in a space as small as 50 x 50 feet. The inventors want to certify it in the light sport aircraft (LSA) category, meaning pilots with as little as 20 hours training could fly it in good weather conditions. To start with, though, it would be confined to airfields and take off like a regular airplane.

The plan is to eventually get it approved for vertical takeoffs, which would be fully controlled by a computer rather than a pilot. It will feature fly-by-wire joystick controls and a touchscreen, panoramic windows, a retractable landing gear and recharging system that could plug into regular power. Thanks to the ducted engines, it'll be much quieter than helicopters during takeoff and landing.

Despite the ESA's backing, the project has a lot of hoops to jump through. As we've mentioned, certification for regular airplanes is already time-consuming and expensive, and the Lilium hardly qualifies as regular. Getting it approved for vertical takeoffs is really a stretch, as the only comparable aircraft is the V22 Osprey, which cost billions to certify. Also, 500 km on battery power sounds very dubious, considering the high performance.

However, the inventors have already flown a half-scale prototype (above) and plan to fly a full-scale model this summer, with manned flights ambitiously scheduled for 2017. However, we've heard that tune before from Terrafugia, AeroMobile and numerous other wannabe flying cars, and we're still waiting.