Earlier this year, on a trip to Europe, I dropped German eVTOL company Lilium a line, asking if I could drop in for a visit, and the team went out of their way to roll out the red carpet for me, arranging not only a sit-down with with co-founder Daniel Wiegand, but also a tour of the company's gleaming white soon-to-be manufacturing facilities with CTO Alastair McIntosh, a chance to see the stunning full-size Lilium Jet demonstrator in person with Head of Industrial Readiness Julie Spanswick, a look through the ground-based component testing center with Senior Engineer Lukas Wollenberg, and a visit to the company's design studio with Head of Product Design Thomas Vanciek.
But an absolute highlight was dropping into the simulator lab to chat with Senior Simulator Engineer Andreas Freiherr von Lepel, who threw me into a motion rig with a VR headset on, and gave me my first chance to fly the thing and experience its next-gen control scheme for myself.
Why is this a big deal? Well, eVTOLs are in many ways a completely new type of passenger aircraft. Like the multicopter drones that inspired them, eVTOLs can take off and land vertically, with full control over yaw, pitch and roll movements during a hover. But many can also transition into fully wing-supported forward flight like an airplane – in Lilium's case, by tilting its banks of electric propulsion jets between vertical and horizontal orientations during flight.
There's no way a pilot could control the motor speed and tilt of each of these little fan banks manually, so it's all done through an intelligent fly-by-wire flight control system that monitors the aircraft's dynamic position through all sorts of sensors, makes continuous adjustments on the fly to compensate for wind gusts and weight shifts in the cabin, and interprets a pilot's control inputs on top of all this to make final decisions on what the fans and tilting banks will do.