Humans have wanted personal flight for a very long, very long time.
Science fictions movies promised us jet packs and flying cars and, to some extent, these things have materialized albeit in a fairly inaccessible way for the average human.
One of the seemingly possible and realistic attempts at making a personal "flying car" for the masses (ahem, rich masses) was made by Paul Moller.
He's been trying and getting tantalizingly close, to creating a "Skycar" for more than 50 years.
It looks great, it looks real.
He's even done tethered flight tests but he's spent most of his time trying to develop an efficient rotary fossil fuel engine and waiting for someone else to invent an infrastructure to make flying it "easy" for anyone.
These days it seems most of his money goes on updating his web site and making CGI videos of how the things may eventually work...
... but he's too late.
While he was mucking around with fossil fuels he totally missed the whole "drone" thing.
He failed to see the potential in electric drones.
Really, a man like him should have noticed the potential for small electric motors even before drones.
I noticed, before drones, that toy helicopters with contra-rotating blades, electronic gyro's and GPS were amazingly easy to fly even for someone without any flying experience.
They were still a bit tricky to fly, but mostly they were "do-able". Balancing on a single bubble of air is always tricky.
Shortly after that someone made the logical leap to add more propellers and make the "helicopter" stable i.e. 3 or 4 cushions of air to ride on.
The drone was born and Moller still didn't notice.
He didn't even seem to have the thought "well if we make it just a bit bigger a person could ride on it".
Moller's SkyCars had major safety issues.
Yeah they were hard to fly and if an engine failed you were in deep poo.
Moller had trouble getting stable flight with all engines running properly. So a failure of an engine would be catastrophic.
This problem still applies for ride-able drones but the likelihood of an engine fairly is lower than with a fossil fuel engine.
As you can imagine people went nuts with how many engines they had on a drone.
But the dream of a decent, reliable and easy to fly personal aircraft seemed really, really close.
There have been many reboots and attempts. Some great. Some not so great.
Even the great ones may struggle to get traction. They'll probably cost too much and as such the business of making them may struggle to survive.
Then along came Lilium - some crazy Germans who seem to have hit upon the magic formula. Meet the Lilium Jet...
Lots of little electric engines ducted and and vectorable over lifting surfaces.
This thing could probably lose more engines than a Moller Skycar has in total, and still reach its destination safely.
This isn't CGI. This is real and flying now.
We'll probably be able to get a ride in it before 2025.
It looks good. It looks safe. It is scalable and it works NOW!
I feel a bit sad for Paul Moller. He is very unlikely to realise his dream.
His passion and drive for this would have surely infected many other people including those who have eclipsed him.
For me this is a lesson in focus versus distraction.
Tunnel vision, unerring drive towards a goal are all well and good. That is, until they make you miss opportunities popping up around you.
Have a great 2020 and don't forget to poke your head up now and then and grab some opportunities :-)
David - Tech' Wrangler @ I Hate My PC.