Taylor Made: 186 miles til recharge
Will the 2020s be the decade of the flying car? It’s entirely possible, and former MechSE visiting scholar Jens Dodenhoeft is working at the center of this new era in transportation.
Dodenhoeft works for the German startup Lilium, founded in Munich in 2015. Now employing over 300 people, Lilium strives to bring “urban air mobility” to the public through an electric air taxi jet that is projected to be fully operational and publicly available by 2025.
“When Lilium was founded, it was done so on the clear principle that whatever solution we came up with had to be beneficial to society,” Dodenhoeft said. “That’s why we’ve been focused on delivering a fully electric, zero-operating-emissions aircraft.”
Lilium’s innovative approach to its five-seater air taxi design can be summed up as safe, simple, and affordable. The electric jet, which completed its first flight this May, has minimal moving components—just one in each of its 36 engines—and does not need a tail, rudder, or folding propellers. The engines tilt for vertical takeoff and provide a maximum 2,000 horsepower; at cruising speeds in level flight, less than ten percent of that horsepower is needed. The jet is projected to have a top speed of 186 miles per hour and range of 186 miles.
The design also takes on the principle of ultra-redundancy, with features such as a triple-redundant flight control computer. Dodenhoeft leads the flight control laws team, a group of engineers who develop, test, and certify flight control software for the jet. The software serves as the connection between pilot commands and aircraft actuators, playing a key role in overall performance.
“What I really enjoy about my work is the diversity of tasks I’m responsible for, ranging from drafting architectures and supporting flight tests to conducting job interviews,” Dodenhoeft said. “Having joined Lilium in its early days about three years ago, it has been very rewarding to contribute to this journey and see the company become what it is today.”
Dodenhoeft came to Illinois as a visiting scholar in the fall of 2015, working with MechSE professor Naira Hovakimyan on investigating ways to enhance aviation safety. During their joint study, they used the Illinois Simulator Laboratory to test flight control software with commercial pilots.
“Jens is an extremely gifted young engineer, with a brilliant grasp of engineering concepts and deep insights into fundamental theoretical concepts,” Hovakimyan said. “The flight at low altitude in urban environments is compounded with even more complexities due to the presence of unforeseen obstacles, the presence of human, heterogeneity of the environment, and many other factors. I am confident that Jens has all the preparation to lead the innovation in the right way.” She has since gone through successful rounds of in-flight testing with her L1 adaptive control system.