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German Company Building An Electric 'Air Taxi' Makes Key Hires From Gett, Airbus and Tesla (techcrunch.com) 74

Lilium, the Germany company known for building an electric "air taxi," is announcing a number of key hires from notable companies in the transportation space. While the company is still in its early days, it is ambitiously striving to make flying cars a reality. Back in April, the company launched its first public (and successful) test flight in Germany. TechCrunch reports: [The key hires] are Dr Remo Gerber, former MD for Western Europe at Gett, who joins Lilium as Chief Commercial Officer; Dirk Gebser, who takes up the position of VP of Production and previously held manufacturing executive roles at Airbus and Rolls Royce; and Meggy Sailer, who joined Lilium as Head of Recruitment in February and was formerly Tesla's Head of Talent EMEA. In a call with Gerber, he told me he was "super happy" to be joining the German startup, noting that there are very few companies in Europe with the same level of ambition. "It is definitely the most fascinating job I could have ever imagined," he says, audibly excited. "I've done quite a few things in my time and I've seen quite a few companies but never anything even remotely like that." To add a little color, Gerber pointed out that his training is in physics ("a long time ago") and that his grandfather was a pilot in World War II, and his uncle also a pilot. This, and the first time he saw the Lilium jet fly, made the opportunity to join a startup building a new kind of air travel "irresistible."
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German Company Building An Electric 'Air Taxi' Makes Key Hires From Gett, Airbus and Tesla

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  • by Kokuyo ( 549451 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @02:31AM (#55068357) Journal

    Is the product marketable? Because while there may be some big names being tossed around, all those positions are hierarchy garnishings and don't seem to be having much impact on anything.

    Let's be honest, an air taxi will pretty much sell itself if it works. And whether it works is exactly where my doubts lay :D.

    • Because while there may be some big names being tossed around, all those positions are hierarchy garnishings and don't seem to be having much impact on anything.

      Oh, hiring big names is a great way to impress potential investors . . . squeeze out a few more € from venture capitalists . . .

      • That's all this "Air Taxi" company will be. Another company sapping the cash from venture capitalists. I expect this will be one of the last times we hear from them, before they inevitably go under. And i guess that'll be in a few years.

        I'll be there in the comments with a link to this post and an "I told you so" underneath it
        • by Anonymous Coward

          First thing I had to think of when I read the article: Cargolifter 2.0

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CargoLifter

          Hugely ambitious project to create a transport blimp. Lots of press and investors. Went bankrupt before getting anywhere.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            I don't know about Cargolifter specifically, but the cargo transport airship is far from a dead concept. There are at least 3 current development efforts. They're all going through teething problems to be sure but there are (or maybe were after the Aeroscraft vs hanger ceiling incident ) two large prototypes.

        • That's all this "Air Taxi" company will be. Another company sapping the cash from venture capitalists. I expect this will be one of the last times we hear from them, before they inevitably go under. And i guess that'll be in a few years.

          There will probably be a kickstarter or two before then.

        • 'Scamming' investors is not nice but it is hard to sympathise with venture capitalist vultures. Even if the company goes under the cash is better sent on research in this field than on another image sharing app.
          • Even if the company goes under the cash is better sent on research in this field than on another image sharing app.

            Who knows where the money is being spent . . . ?

            On research . . . ? Or high executive salaries . . . ? Maybe a nice sailing yacht . . . ?

            • Or hookers and cocaina. One could argue that yacht manufacturers, drug dealers and hookers want to eat too. But that is a different story. Even if so, does it matter if it's the company executives or the venture capital managers who spend the money for above-mentioned activities?
    • by dave4 ( 5038527 )
      Head of Talent and Head of recruitment have a huge impact. They basically decide what kind of engineers will be designing this thing. And probably they can poach a few top talents for key positions from Tesla and Airbus. And talent attracts talent. Would you join a startup from Marissa Mayer or Elon Musk? It is a world of difference even if the person doesn't do much themselves.
    • You could set up an air taxi today if you wanted. Just buy a fleet of helicopters, and hire a bunch of pilots.

      We have a water taxi in my home town. no, it's not an amphibious car, it's a crappy dinghy with an outboard motor on it. Taxi != car
    • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *

      an air taxi will pretty much sell itself if it works

      It will be great until they start dropping out of the sky. There's a reason everything air travel related is so expensive. The standards both in engineering and materials quality are higher, as is the maintenance required. Anyone thinking an "air taxi" operation will be a hands-off affair no more complicated that running a few drones is in for a serious wake-up call - to the point where I don't even think it's possible to make a profit. Unless, as I said, you don't care when they start dropping out of the s

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Low maintenance and high reliability is where electric propulsion shines. An electric aircraft will be higher maintenance than an electric car, but probably far lower than a combustion engine aircraft.

        • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
          But cars (including electric cars) fail all the time. An airborne vehicle risks death or injury with a single failure. Even auto-land features on failure detected, etc are not foolproof due to the complexity of flight. What happens when you auto-land on a sloped building roof 300 feet in the air, or the middle of a lake? Exactly how much reserve do you think you can build into it? Redundancy and reserve adds complexity and weight, with eats into profit margins. Landing a passenger aircraft is far more compl
          • After a cup of coffee my thought was, "The Batteries quit, what is the glide slope ratio?", then another question is, "The Batteries quit, what does the pilot recover?", and another question is, "What is the Max Cross Wind Speed?"
            • For a craft this small, parachutes are a perfectly viable solution. Not for the occupants individually, but for the whole craft. Already, some small jets have been made with parachutes to bring the whole thing down more or less safely if the single engine fails.

              As for crosswind, since it's a VTOL capable of pretty much any speed down to zero, I hardly think that's an issue. Gusts, yes. But with a steady crosswind, just turn the nose into the wind and land vertically with air speed equaling wind speed.

              • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *

                parachutes are a perfectly viable solution. Not for the occupants individually, but for the whole craft.

                And what do you do when the vehicle lands on a busy highway in front of a semi, or a city intersection in front of a bus? Or on top of a pedestrian? You can do a perfect landing as far as the unit is concerned and still kill people. I don't think "It's not our fault" is going to work. The more units you have running, the greater the probability that eventually a unit will fail and someone is going to die - especially when you plan on using them in a dense urban area because after all that's probably the onl

                • Well, for the Cirrus Vision SF50 it was considered an acceptable risk, apparently. And I imagine you'll still be able to glide in a safe direction before deploying the parachute. Also, this "Air Taxi" has so many separate engines, with probably lots of control redundancy built in as well, that it's unlikely that everything would fail together. The parachute would really be a very last ditch option.

                  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
                    Yeah, I'm not saying I don't want to see these things happen. I'm saying I doubt they will be profitable at all. Either they will be dangerous as fuck and the occasional one will kill its passengers once in a while, or they will be so packed with safety and redundancy equipment and require so much maintenance that they won't leave any room for profit.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      If it sells really depends on how quickly lawmakers can come up with a workable system to allow small aircraft to zip around cities in a reasonably safe manner.

    • "And whether it works is exactly where my doubts lay :D."

      Let's assume that it works. What advantage(s) does it have over an old-fashioned, non-nifty technology, helicopter?. Will it be cheaper, faster, safer, quieter, have a smaller footprint (with 10 meter wings? Seems like it might need some space on the ground)

      BTW, if that "same as a Tesla" battery is the same as a Tesla 85kwh battery, it will weigh in around 540kg. And that's without framing members, controlling electronics, power cable, etc.

      540kg is

      • Actually it could work. Take the Sikorsky H-34. It has a ~1100kW engine that weighs about that much dry, so with lubricating oil and a part of the drive train it would weigh about as much as the Tesla battery and a 1100kW electric motor with the required drive train and wiring. So yep, it would work for a real helicopter, but the range would be very short.

    • And whether it works...

      Whether it continues to work after a solar flare or the inevitable software bug, that is the question.

  • ... when 3rd parties independently test it.

    Good luck.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I guess autogyro isn't an option here. While they have rotor redundancy, I don't see a plan for total loss of powered flight.

  • A fixed-wing aircraft uses something between 2 and 3 *times* as much energy per km. If you add vertical performance you can multiply that by another 2 or 3 or so.

    The problems we're in now are because we valued convenience over everything. We need to *stop* doing that.

    • A fixed-wing aircraft uses something between 2 and 3 *times* as much energy per km.

      As much energy as what? A ground vehicle? For the same weight or per passenger? Light aircraft are typically lighter than cars because they are less likely to be involved in collisions and so don't need roll cages and so on, so I'll assume that it's per passenger. Aircraft can go in a straight line, whereas ground vehicles often have to travel two sides of a triangle or three sides of a square, so even a factor of 2 is not that bad, if you can take off and land near you origin and destination.

  • If someone can do it than it's the Germans.
    • by Dr. Evil ( 3501 )

      Germany will only do the PoC. The Germans will stop when it involves breaking rules or taking risks, then the Chinese step in.

  • by gavron ( 1300111 ) on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @07:01AM (#55068905)

    This will never fly. It's not a jet. It has no power-off life savings. It won't work within the national airspace systems.

    Lillium calls it a jet. One of the quotes in the original article says it's a jet. It's not. There are four kinds of "jet" motors - turbojet (turbine heats gasses and expels them to provide thrust, like a fighter jet), turbo shaft (turbine heats gasses which drive another turbine that powers a shaft for a helicopter or tank, like an M-1 Abrams or a UH-01 "Huey" helicopter), turboprop (turbine powers propeller, like a regional jet), and turbofan (turbine powers a ducted fan to provide high-bypass - 747 - or low bypass - F14 - ducted fan thrust). Lillium uses no turbine, no jet exhaust, just DJI-like electric fans.

    Lillium has no strategy for emergency power-off failure. Fixed-wing planes can glide to landing. Helicopters can autorotate. Autogyros are already in permanent autorotations. There is NO PASSENGER-CARRYING AIRCRAFT certified anywhere in the world that hasn't been proven to survive a power off (lost engines, get to ground safely) landing. Lillium can barely make weight lifting its own shell. Lifting its own shell plus cargo or humans is not yet possible. To add to that the ability to do power-off landings is beyond what is feasible.

    The US National Airspace System (NAS) and the equivalent in Europe, Japan, Australia, and other countries do not allow aircraft to function in Visual Flight Rules (VFR) areas without constant verbal communication with Air Traffic Control. That means unlicensed "pilots" wouldn't be able to take off or land anywhere in these countries without lots of training... but more importantly they'd have to be in control of the aircraft, which Lillium says would be an automatic self-flying device.

    For these reasons (and more, including that no insurer would ever insure it because you can't hold an autonomous vehicle responsible for anything...) this will never fly.

    Ehud Gavron
    US FAA commercial helicopter pilot

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @07:11AM (#55068939)

      They already produced a full scale model that actually flies. There are 36 individual fans, I guess powered by separate battery packs for redundancy, so a single fan failure doesn't result a crash of the vehicle. Two separate computers for redundancy also.

      Then, there is a parachute that should cover the situations where both computers fail for a reason.

      I think the goal is to have an autonomous vehicle, so you don't need all the training. They can integrate the autonomous system with the air traffic control - we are not in the 40's anymore - there is no need to call air traffic while a computer can send your exact position and flight plan. This is something that will have to be solved one day anyways - if we are to have any kind of flying vehicle that doesn't require extensive pilot training.

    • >Lillium has no strategy for emergency power-off failure.

      On small enough vehicles, you can have a ballistic chute sufficient to bring the whole vehicle to ground at a survivable velocity. They make them for ultralight aircraft. Lillium may not have thought of this yet, but it's a realistic option.

      As for automatic navigation... I've seen some amazing commercial drone software. Current rules (here) are that the drone must be in visual range of the operator, but I have to tell you that those things can c

    • Never say never. When (if) autonomous VTOL craft are feasible, and if there is enough public demand and perceived benefit to society, the rules will be changed. Perhaps we'll see a new class of airspace, under (semi) automated air traffic control in order to cope with the increased traffic. Which will be great, we can stick the toy drones in that control network too. But sure, I don't expect to see these things flying around my city in the next decade.

      Insurance for these things is exactly what it wil
    • You are mixing up "jet" with "turbine".

      This are impeller engines, hence they are jets.

      • by lorinc ( 2470890 )

        To be honest, their website has a paragraph on "Electric Jet Engines" which is kind of non-sense since, as you mention, these are impellers. There is no engine (as in reaction engine) in this thing, nothing is ever burnt in normal operation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The US National Airspace System (NAS) and the equivalent in Europe, Japan, Australia, and other countries do not allow aircraft to function in Visual Flight Rules (VFR) areas without constant verbal communication with Air Traffic Control.

      IFR requires communication with ATC. VFR only requires it in Class B, C, and D airspace (and the very rare class E airport with a control tower). The vast majority of the US's airspace below 18,000 feet is class E, and does not even require the aircraft to have a radio. Cla

    • Would you fly the Bat? [wikia.com]
    • This will never fly. It's not a jet. It has no power-off life savings. It won't work within the national airspace systems.

      Ehud Gavron
      US FAA commercial helicopter pilot

      Their design includes, as a standard, a quick-deploy parachute/parafoil system. This is for instances of failure.

      And true, it's not a jet, but ducted electric props. No combustion == not a jet.

    • There is NO PASSENGER-CARRYING AIRCRAFT certified anywhere in the world that hasn't been proven to survive a power off

      If they lose power over the middle of the Pacific, everybody will drown. Still there are aircraft being certified to fly there. So the certification in that case is based not on the survivability of a "power off", but on its (un)likeliness.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        No.

        Aircraft certificated for operation beyond gliding distance from land are required to have flotation devices, passenger exit devices (e.g. slides), and demonstrated ability to stay above water long enough to evacuate the passengers.

        E

    • Here's the thing: there are far more jet engines than the four you have mentioned. I can name three out of my head that go without any turbine: pulsejet, ramjet and motorjet.

  • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Wednesday August 23, 2017 @07:23AM (#55068971)

    This airtaxi runs on hot air alone.

Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong

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