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First All-Electric Plane Flies for Just About 15 Minutes

Caroline Delbert
Photo credit: Harbour Air/MagniX

From Popular Mechanics

  • The first all-electric airplane has made a successful test flight of almost 15 minutes.
  • Short charters are an ideal place to start electrifying planes, with other industries to follow.
  • Harbour Air and MagniX retrofitted a classic, reliable aircraft with a cutting-edge electric powertrain.

A completely electric plane has made its longest flight ever at just under 15 minutes. The plane is a collaboration between a Seattle engineering firm named MagniX and a nearby Vancouver air charter company named Harbour Air. Like an electric car, it runs on a parcel of lithium ion batteries.

Harbour Air offers services you might describe as an air taxi—it ferries people to places just outside of Vancouver, where many people live on and visit islands, resorts, and more that are accessible by boat or air ferry. The company also flies back and forth to Seattle. These short, frequent trips make Harbour an ideal candidate for an electric fleet.

MagniX chief Roei Ganzarski says the plane it tested for this flight could fly up to 100 miles. Like early electric cars, this limitation precludes people who must go longer distances, but works for many who are just going short distances—especially suited for the corridor between Seattle and Vancouver, where many people work and play in both places. Where the airline industry in general is drawing constant criticism for how much carbon it produces, an electric fleet of local charters is very appealing.

The airplane flown in the test is vintage: a 1957 de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver made right in Canada. These planes have remained so popular for so many decades that another manufacturer purchased the rights to continue to make new replacement parts. The DHC-2 Beaver has flown as a “bush plane,” meaning in the short flights from Anchorage to remote Alaskan villages, for example, and as a more urban charter plane.

Because of the high durability, reparability, and utility of the DHC-2 Beaver, Harbour Air hopes to turn all of its similar planes electric as well, resulting in a fully electric fleet that’s still made of the most hardy and field-tested civilian aircrafts around. Harbour Air’s founder Greg McDougall piloted the prototype aircraft on its first flight. He says the fuel and maintenance savings alone make an electric fleet worth investing in.

The DHC-2 Beaver was designed as a short takeoff and landing (STOL) airplane, and now it’s been retrofitted with an electric engine. Harbour’s website lists the horsepower of its other DHC-2 Beavers as 450 HP, which is the same as the original engine—it’s possible these well-maintained original engines have never needed to be replaced. But that also means the new electric engine is replacing a 9-cylinder, 450 HP engine made in the 1960s.

Harbour Air says it's already carbon neutral, flying 500,000 people per year on over 40 airplanes. If the company's entire map of 12 destinations is within the 100-mile threshold, founder McDougall is right that it makes undeniable sense to electrify. The next step for Harbour and MagniX’s Magni500 electric powertrain is to go through a long period of regulatory tests and other paperwork and government safety rules.

Harbour and MagniX expect this will take at least a couple of years, after which they can hopefully upgrade their entire fleet. The MagniX powertrain comes in 375- and 750 HP versions, so Harbour’s larger planes are covered, too. In a time when elites are booking long flights to nowhere to boost their airline miles status, Harbour Air and MagniX’s planned electric fleet is a breath of fresh, unpolluted air.

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