On May 4, 2019, a fully-functioning technology demonstrator version of the Lilium Jet flew for the first time. A 1:2 scale-model made its first flight in 2015 and a larger scale technology demonstrator flew in April 2017.
On October 22, 2019 the German company announced the completion of the first phase of flight testing. The aircraft achieved speeds exceeding 62 mph (100 km/h) and conducted a variety of maneuvers, including the transition from vertical to horizontal flight. Subsequently, Lilium started further flight testing, but on February 27, 2020, the technology demonstrator was destroyed by fire during maintenance work. The company started to build a second technology demonstrator that it said would incorporate lessons learned from the first model. However, this work was delayed by disruption from the Covid pandemic and, as of September 2020, Lilium would not say when flight testing will resume.
Lilium's business plan calls for it to have the aircraft certified and ready to be operated in several cities around the world from 2025. In June 2019, it announced plans to establish its main software engineering team in London, mainly to deal with the software development requirements for its plans to operate and commercialize on-demand air taxi service.
The company is making use of program management systems devised by Airbus, where some of its senior leaders previously worked. This includes stage-gate review processes to ensure that quality standards are being met at every key point in the program. It is also actively engaging with suppliers to ensure that their various contributions meet the same standards and are on track to meet requirements for certification and production.
As of September 2020, the company employed 500 people, with most of these engaged in engineering work. The Lilium team includes just over 35 PhDs and more than 40 nationalities. Around 90 of these people have already been assigned to prepare for production ramp-up.
The aircraft is powered by 36 all-electric engines mounted on flaps that provide vertical or horizontal thrust as the wings are tilted. The design, which is unconventional even by eVTOL standards, has no tail, no rudder, no variable pitch, no propellers, no gearboxes, no oil circuits, and only one moving part in each engine. Lilium argues that the reduced number of components makes the aircraft safer and more affordable to operate.
As of June 2020, Lilium had raised a total of more than $375 million in investments. This included around $275 million from a funding round launched in March 2020, which included a further $35 million investment from Baillie Gifford announced on June 9.
On July 14. 2020, Lilium announced a partnership with Toray Industries, a carbon-fiber manufacturer who promises to supply the eVTOL developer with composite materials for the new Lilium Jet. Known especially for their work with the 787 Dreamliner, Toray materials will be used to build further iterations of the all-electric aircraft.
On September 8, 2020, Lilium announced a partnership with Cologne-Bonn and Dusseldorf airports to explore options for developing an air mobility network for the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
In November of 2020, Lilium announced a deal with the city of Orlando, Florida, to launch its first U.S.-based hub for its operations. Dubbed a "vertiport" but the Munich-based company, the facility would be just outside of Orlando International Airport in a rising community known as Lake Nona. The city offered Lilium more than $800,000 in tax rebates, paving the way for commercial operations to begin by the hub's expected completion in 2025.
On December 9, 2020, the company announced a partnership with Lufthansa Aviation Training to establish a qualification program for prospective Lilium Jet pilots. With eVTOL aircraft and regional air mobility services still in their infancy, Lilium dubbed the training program the first of its kind, and a significant milestone on its path to launch.
On January 5, 2021, the company announced its new chief technology officer Alastair McIntosh, who formerly headed engineering and technology at Rolls-Royce Germany. One week later, former Airbus CEO Tom Enders joined Lilium's executive board. This furthers Lilium's strength and credibility as a serious player in the eVTOL industry as it aims to meet its 2025 service goal.
On February 22, 2021, Lilium selected Aciturri, an aerostructures and aero-engine components production company, to produce the primary composite structures on the Lilium Jet eVTOL. Both Lilium's chief program officer, Yves Yemsi, and Aciturri come from a past of collaboration on projects like the Airbus A350 XWB, and while Lilium says it is putting a lot of responsibility on the the aerostructures company, it remains trustful and prepared.
On March 30, 2021, Lilium announced plans for an $830 million Nasdaq flotation through a merger with special purpose acquisition company Qell. At the same time, the company confirmed that the series production version of the Lilium Jet will have seven seats (with one being for a pilot). It aims to complete concurrent EASA and FAA type certification in 2024.
On September 15, 2021, with its "business combination" with Qell complete, the merged company's shares floated on New York's Nasdac exchange. The deal is now expected to raise around $584 million in gross proceeds. This is less than the $830 million anticipated when the SPAC merger was announced, which a source close to the company told FutureFlight is due to the fact that 65 percent of Qell shareholders opted to redeem their stock on closing. With financial obligations met, attention will now shift to the speed at which the Lilium team can step up development and certification work for their seven-seat aircraft. Most immediately, it needs to accelerate plans for the flight testing of a production-conforming prototype.