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eVTOL start-up Lilium secures new capital

Lilium co-founders. Source: Lilium

Investors in Series B funding round include Tesla investor Tencent

European aviation start-up Lilium has secured a new capital injection as part of a US$90 million Series B funding round.

The company made headlines last year with its design for an electric jet capable of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL). As interesting as its design, however, is the group of backers the firm has secured – in particular Tencent, the same Chinese tech group which took a 5% stake in Tesla earlier this year.

Other backers include banking and asset management group LGT, Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström’s investment group Atomico, and Twitter co-founder Ev Williams capital group Obvious Ventures. The investment brings the company’s total capital raised to over US$100 million.

Lilum says the new investment will be used for the development of a five-seat Lilium Jet aimed at commercial flights, and to expand its team.

Co-founder and CEO Daniel Wiegand remarked: “This investment is a tremendously important step for Lilium as it enables us to make the five-seat jet a reality. 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. It makes Lilium one of the best funded electric aircraft projects in the world. Our backers recognise that Lilium’s innovative eVTOL technology puts us in the lead in this exciting new industry, with no other company promising the economy, speed, range and low-noise levels of the Lilium Jet.”

Render of the Lilium Jet
Render of the Lilium Jet

Getting airborne

To recap, the Lilium Jet is a lightweight aircraft powered by 36 electric jet engines mounted to its wings via 12 moveable flaps.

As with other notable eVTOL projects, the goal is to enable faster flight from within urban areas. In this case, the Jet’s wing fans can be rotated once in flight, enabling it to fly at comparable speed and distance as a fixed-wing aircraft. A two-seater version had its maiden (unmanned) flight in Germany, in April – and it is undoubtedly impressive.

 

 

Lilium says the Jet will be able to travel at up to 300 km per hour for one hour on a single charge. This is where ElecTrans remains sceptical as to the timeline of development (models were originally planned for sale in 2018), and of the aircraft’s final capabilities.

The initial specifications called for a 600kg max take-off weight, which includes a 200kg max payload. This does not leave a great deal of room for the heavy battery packs that will make flight possible. Rough calculations suggested a suitable battery pack would require well over 100 kWh, and even more for the proposed five-seater version.

Other safety concerns do seem to have been accounted for. The company says each jet is individually shielded, so the failure of a single unit cannot affect adjacent engines, and that each power cell is designed to continue delivering sufficient power for “continued flight and a safe landing in the unlikely event that part of the battery configuration fails.”

A “Flight Envelope Protection System” also prevents the pilot from performing manoeuvres that would take the aircraft beyond safe flight parameters.

With a prototype already airborne, Lilium is now in a far better place to concentrate on powering its Jet. And with growing interest in eVTOL technology, ElecTrans is perhaps more optimistic about its success than a year ago. But commercial electric aviation remains a considerable challenge, reflected in the fact that Lilium’s first manned flight is now pushed out to 2019, with commercial travel arriving in 2025. An exciting electric future is on its way, but it is not quite ready for take-off just yet.

 

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