Flying electric taxi upstart scores $90m from investors

Its aircraft doesn't have a tail fin. No, really

Air taxi upstart Lilium's proposed design
Lilium's concept aircraft design. Note canard layout and position of fans

A German startup claiming that an electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft powered by 36 electric fans is the future of personal transport has somehow scored $90m from investors.

Lilium, which describes itself as “developing the world’s first all-electric jet aircraft capable of vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL)”, has raised tens of millions of dollars in its Series B funding round.

Investors include the royal family of Lichtenstein’s investment fund*, China’s Tencent corporation, and one of the co-founders of Twitter, Evan Williams, via his Obvious Ventures capital fund.

“This investment is a tremendously important step for Lilium as it enables us to make the five-seat jet a reality,” said co-founder and chief exec Daniel Wiegand, in a canned statement. “This is the next stage in our rapid evolution from an idea to the production of a commercially successful aircraft that will revolutionise the way we travel in and around the world’s cities.”

Wiegand’s prototype has performed a test flight proving that its VTOL concept works; a video and writeup of that experiment on Wired reveals that it can land vertically in practice, much like the F-35 fighter jet.

Although the test is clearly being carried out at an airfield, the seemingly unmanned prototype does not appear to bear any registration letters, suggesting that for regulatory purposes it might be classified as a drone.

Its 36 ducted electric fans, referred to by Lilium as “jets”, are split between the canard stabilisers mounted either side of the nose, with six fans mounted on top of each surface and the remaining 24 split evenly between the main wings at the rear. The flight surfaces (horizontal stabilisers) are all-moving, in lieu of separate dedicated control surfaces such as ailerons or elevators – much like the tailplanes on a modern airliner.

The electric air taxi is claimed to be capable of flying 300km at speeds up to 300kph on a single charge while carrying five passengers. It does not have a fin (vertical stabiliser), apparently on the grounds that “differential thrust from the engines in cruise flight” means instability can somehow be compensated for. Your correspondent is no aeronautical engineer but would be fascinated to see what the weather limits for this aircraft are, particularly in gusty conditions.

Lilium hopes to develop this rather improbable idea into an on-demand air taxi service, along the general lines of Uber and other taxi apps. Airspace management is likely to be its next biggest hurdle after the laws of physics – a topic that is causing considerable headaches in the UK. ®

Bootnote

* Reuters, bless them, referred to the Lichtenstein Global Trust as “the largest family-owned investment firm in Europe”. Presumably the Duchy Originals brand of organic fruit ‘n’ veg, owned by Prince Charles, counts as “a family-owned grocer’s business” in its world.


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