Light aircraft for the future

Bonn investor backs vertical starting aircraft

Die Vision: Der Lilium-Jet soll in großen Städten wie New York als Taxi fungieren.

The Lilium Jet completed its maiden flight over Bayern.  In the future, it could be used as an Air-Taxi in big cities like New York.

21.04.2017 Bonn. The electric-powered aircraft is intended for use by commuters and as an Air-Taxi and has now completed its maiden flight.  But it will take awhile until it is introduced on the market. 

Anyone who has experienced traffic jams more often, has for sure wished they would be able to fly to work.  Several dozen firms worldwide are working on the development of easy-to-use flying machines and Bonn-based investor Frank Thelen is one of those involved.  He is counting on the Munich-based start-up company Lilium, which he says has developed the world’s first electrically driven vertical starter.  

The Lilium Jet is the only electric aircraft that can fly and land vertically and also fly forward by using its wings like a normal aircraft for boost. With this capability, the jet consumes up to 90 percent less energy than a drone-like aircraft. This allows the Lilium Jet to reach a range of over 300 kilometers with a top speed of 300 km / h. But it will take years until the aircraft comes on the market.

Thelen says he has a “two-digit percentage share” in the young company.  The Lilium Jet has now completed an unmanned maiden flight over Bavaria.  41-year-old Thelen is CEO of the Bonn venture capital firm e42.  He finances and supports technology-oriented young entrepreneurs in the early stages of their companies.  

Daniel Wiegand, Sebastian Born, Patrick Nathen and Matthias Meiner founded Lilium in 2015 and have been working intensively on the development of the aircraft since then. "Daniel Wiegand and his co-founders are the most impressive founding team I have seen in my career so far," says Thelen.  Atomico, the investment company of Skype founder Niklas Zennström, has invested ten million euros in the start-up. The company also receives support from European Space Agency (ESA).  

The first successful flight of the Lilium Jet means that the team can go on to develop a five-seat aircraft.  It would make travel at least five times faster than with a car and would be very efficient, especially in crowded cities.  Starting and landing requires only a small open space or a flat surface on the roof of a building. A flight from Manhattan to the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York would take only about five minutes instead of the usual 55 minutes by car.

Other firms are working on easy-to-use aircraft as well but the price is not for everyone.  The Dutch company Personal Air and Land Vehicle (PAL-V) is now offering the “Liberty” model flying car for 499,000 euros.  Twenty of these vehicles are to be delivered by the end of 2018.  

Some flight experts are still skeptical about the development of flying cars.  And the Lilium founders know they still have a ways to go.  “It will take several years before we are on the market,” says Wiegand.  Investor Frank Thelen congratulated the young entrepreneurs on the maiden flight and said,  "For me, they represent the pioneering spirit that Germany needs in order to remain the world leader in mobility."

(Orig. Text: Claudia Mahnke)