In 2013 Daniel Wiegand, an Aerospace Engineering student from the Technical University of Munich (TUM), Germany took a trip to Glasgow, Scotland that changed his life. His trip, combined with his studies on flight propulsion systems, sparked an idea about how to revolutionize urban mobility. When he returned to Munich, he brought on three TUM classmates, Sebastian Born, Patrick Nathen, and Matthias Meiner, and they founded Lilium in 2015. Their goal was to create a way for people to travel safely and efficiently through a city by drones. To do this they knew they needed to build a system from the ground up, literally. This meant designing a vehicle that would meet all safety requirements, along with a network to support comprehensive passenger drone mobility.
Over the last 5 years, Lilium has raised over $375 million in funding to see their dreams brought to fruition. The journey began by designing the perfect electric aircraft. After several iterations, the Lilium Jet is now ready to take to the skies. It is an electric VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) drone which means that, like a helicopter, it doesn’t need a runway to operate. Unlike a helicopter, this drone takes up far less space and costs a fraction of the design, maintenance, and operational costs. It has four wings that contain 36 single-stage electric motors that provide the drone with near instantaneous thrust in any direction. While taxing into position on the ground, the drone uses a different battery than what it will use during flight. This ensures that the drone has a longer flight time.
One of the things that set Lilium Jet apart from other passenger drones is how it was designed to be conscious of noise pollution. As explained on Lilium’s website, “The Lilium Jet engine has been fully developed in our in-house sound lab where we have used proprietary acoustic modeling software, simulated on high-performance computing clusters, to optimize its design. As well as a customized electric motor, it contains innovative liner technology which means the aircraft will be inaudible from the ground when flying above 400 m and will only be as loud as a passing truck while taking off. On the ground, the aircraft will move to and from parking bays using separate electric motors, allowing it to be as quiet as a typical electric car.” Another unique feature is that the Lilium Jet is larger than most personal mobility drones being designed.
The Lilium Jet can comfortably fit 4 passengers along with a pilot. This positions it to be a realistic vehicle in city environments. Other passenger drones can only fit 1-2 passengers. Part of the goal of streamlining urban mobility is to provide more people with ways to travel. With a large cabin, Lilium does just that. People can schedule flights much like they would schedule a ride with Uber or Lyft through Lilium’s app. Once a flight is booked, passengers go to the nearest vertiport (VTOL ports) within Lilium’s network spread throughout regional cities. In 30-60 minutes, the drone will transport them to coordinating vertiports saving travelers upwards of 30 minutes per trip.
Lilium plans to establish its first transportation hub in Germany’s busiest region connecting cities like Dusseldorf, Cologne, and Dortmund. Earlier this month, they announced that they had partnered up with the real estate firm Tavistock Development to build a vertiport at the Tavistock’s Lake Nona, Florida complex. This development is adjacent to Florida’s busiest airport, Orlando International Airport. Every year more than 50 million people travel through Orlando on their way to destinations like Tampa, Miami, and of course, Disney. With the Lilium Jet vertiport at Lake Nona, these passengers can be ferried within a 186 mile radius to reach their final destinations in record time. Currently to travel from Orlando to Tampa can take up to 2 hours depending on traffic. By hoping into one of Lilium’s drones, the trip can be completed in under 30 minutes.
The $25 million Lake Nona 56,000 square foot Lilium vertiport will generate hundreds of jobs in the Orlando area. It is set to be fully operational by 2025, making it the first passenger drone hub in the United States. Right now, Lilium is working on mass producing their drones to have them ready for the vertiports. At the same time, as Lilium COO Remo Gerber stated, Tavistock and Lilium are working with the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation to meet all airspace and drone regulations. “Building the networks, getting the approvals, is difficult and hard work,” Gerber said, “but I think all of it is possible. We know it’s possible, but it’s certainly something to remain humble about.” Seeing this ambitious project turned into a reality in 5 short years will truly be a humbling process.