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PHOTO CAPTION: Artist's concept of Lilium VTOL electric aircraft

Lilium Debuts Electric VTOL Concept

It lifts off vertically, flies at 250 mph and is entirely powered by batteries, and no, it's not a RC model.

Published: 13-May-2016

Okay, let's be clear right up front. The aircraft you see pictured above doesn't actually exist. It and all the other illustrations proliferating on the 'Net, are just computer renderings, an artist's vision of what the Lilium VTOL aircraft might look like assuming all the technology it incorporates actually materialize.

There is no shortage of "flying car" contenders. New ones seem to emerge every few months now and every now and then one actually takes flight, like the Volocopter.

What might set Lilium apart is who's helping back it. According to reports, it's being hosted by a European Space Agency incubator with technical assistance from the University of Munich. The team hopes to have a prototype flying by 2018.

The specs for the two-passenger vertical take-off and landing aircraft call for a gross take-off weight of 600 kg (1,322 lbs) and a payload of 200 kg. (661 lbs.). The target cruise speed is 300 km/h (186 mph or 162 kts). Maximum velocity is 400 km/h (250 mph or 215 kts).

Given its light weight and high thrust-to-weight ratio - it's powered by a series of ducted fans rated at 320 kW (435 hp) - those numbers seem achievable. What seems less probable, given current state of battery technology, is its proposed range of 500 km (300 mi). That will take some serious battery density, but then given recent announcements from Toyota about its magnesium battery research, not inconceivable.

The designers are hoping to get it classified in the light sport aircraft (LSA) category, making certification somewhat less costly and allowing pilots with just 20 hours of experience to fly it. By comparison, similarly classed aircraft measure their horsepower in the +/- 100 hp range. Then again, they can't take-off straight up, either.

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