Air taxi pioneer Daniel Wiegand

“Air taxis will be normal soon”

Daniel Wiegand wants to revolutionize mobility. Soon, everyone ought to be able to travel with the world’s first all-electric vertical take-off and landing jet. In order to make his vision reality, he recruited the best TUM Alumni for his start-up.

Daniel Wiegand took an interest in aviation very early on. At eleven years old, he built model planes with an electric motor, at fourteen he flew his first glider. He has won the first prize at “Jugend forscht” for developing an adaptive aerofoil. “Hence, studying Aerospace Engineering was an obvious choice”, the Tübingen-born TUM Alumni says. “I chose Munich because TUM is one of the most reputable universities and Munich as a place to live seemed very interesting.”

Daniel Wiegand has fond memories of his time studying at TUM. “I still draw most from the experiences of actually building something”, he says. He remembers solar-powered turbo compressors, electric engines, and also – with a smile – the biggest paper plane of his university time, which, with a wingspan of one meter, silently floated towards a very surprised professor.

The dream of flying

His passion, flying and aircraft propulsion would still not let go of him during an exchange semester to Glasgow in 2013. But instead of a flying object made of paper he now came up with the idea of an electric vertical take-off and landing jet for private transport. He started calculations for his idea, first just for fun, and then more and more seriously. Back in Munich, he first put together a team and then founded a start-up.

We don’t want to offer a luxury product just for rich people. We want to solve one of society’s problems.

Yet, Daniel Wiegand had to convince his co-founders of his visionary idea. “In the beginning they thought I am crazy”, he remembers. But then TUM Alumni Sebastian Born (Master Product Development and Engineering Design 2012) and Matthias Meiner (Diploma Mechatronics and Information Technology 2014) even put their research on hold in order to create the start-up Lilium together with him and Patrick Nathen (Master Aerospace Engineering 2012).

Vertical takeoff

Since starting their business in the beginning of 2015, the four young engineers’ careers have taken off just like their energy efficient vertical take-off and landing jet. Still in the first year of its founding, the company won over the European Space Agency as a supporter and sent the first prototype up into the air. Frank Thelen, well-known investor of the RTL show “Dragon’s Den” [in Germany the show is called ‘Die Höhle der Löwen’], Skype founder Niklas Zennström, as well as Tencent, LGT und Obvious Ventures followed suit in joining the company. Rarely has a European start-up collected that much funds. Overall, Lilium has raised 100 million Euro of equity capital.

The future of flying

The most important thing, according to Daniel Wiegand, he has learnt through starting a business is an incredibly positive view of the future and the feeling of being able to shape things. The first, fully functional jet is to take off still in 2019. In 2025 the Lilium Air Taxi Service will be available to the people in several cities. Five passengers will then be able to travel up to 300 kilometres at a speed of 300 kilometres per hour – without traffic jams, without complex infrastructure, nearly noise-free in cruise flight and powered by climate-friendly energy. “We don’t want to offer a luxury product just for rich people. We want to solve one of society’s problems”, Daniel Wiegand explains his vision. “People are our top priority. The Lilium Jet expands the radius of a person’s life by a factor of 5.”

Faster than Boeing, Airbus and Uber

There is keen competition on the air taxi market. Daniel Wiegand is one of the top players. With regards to technology, Lilium’s zero-emission vertical take-off and landing jet is the most sophisticated product. He and his team have a crucial advantage over large corporations: speed. “We have quick decision-making processes. I am still both CEO and Chief Engineer”, Daniel Wiegand says. On top of that, the start-up from Munich is bringing in experts one by one, from Tesla, Airbus, BMW – and last but not least on a regular bases from TUM. “To see so many highly-motivated and brilliant people from all corners of the world pursue a common goal is incredibly inspiring”, he adds. “The atmosphere in our project really is electrifying.”