ePlane: A tidbit

Harbour Air DHC-2 Beaver floatplane in Richmond, British Columbia, powered by an electric magniX magni500 propulsion system. Photo: Harbour Air.

On 2019-12-10 Harbour Air successfully flew the world’s first all-electric commercial aircraft, the ePlane, a six-passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Canada Beaver on floats, with call sign C-FJOS and production number 1030 of the 1 692 DHC Beavers ever built. Originally delivered with a piston ICE engine on 1957-03-01, it spent most of its operational life based in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

This aircraft, with yellow and blue livery, is now powered by a 560 kW magni500 propulsion system. Its first electric propulsion flight started and ended on the Fraser River at Harbour Air floatplane terminal in Richmond, British Columbia at YVR South, part of Vancouver International Airport.

Richmond is the home base of Harbour Air, North America’s largest floatplane airline. It specializes in routes between Vancouver, Nanaimo, Victoria, Sechelt, Comox, Whistler and the Gulf Islands. There are also flights between downtown Vancouver and downtown Seattle. They also have a European subsidiary in Malta.

Harbour Air has a history of green operations, that is deeper than a typical greenwash. In 2007, it became the first airline in North America to achieve complete carbon neutrality in both flight services and corporate operations. It has announced its intention to build the world’s first completely electric commercial floatplane fleet, but because of certification requirements, including testing, it will have to wait until about the beginning of 2022 before this can start. The company is regarded as one of the best managed in Canada, and has won awards for this.

The Harbour Air fleet consists primarily of de Havilland Canada floatplanes: 14 DHC-2 Beavers (5 – 6 passengers), 21 DHC-3-T(urbo) Otters (10 – 14 passengers) and 3 DHC-6 Twin Otters (18 passengers).

In March 2019, Harbour Air announced a partnership with magniX to electrify the entire Harbour Air fleet over the long term. Harbour Air has noted that its initial electric-powered commercial flights will be on routes of under 30 minutes’ duration. The DHC-2 Beaver serves as the test prototype for the magniX motor, energy storage, and control systems.

MagniX is an Australian electric motor manufacturer for electric aircraft, wholly owned by Singapore investor Clermont Group. Its engineering headquarters is located on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. Its global headquarters and US development centre is located in Redmond, Washington, near Seattle.

One of the main advantages of an electric motor in an aircraft is full torque at low RPM. In addition, the mechanics are simpler, reducing the number of parts as well as weight. For example, a propeller can be attached directly to the motor without a reduction gear.

The magni500 was unveiled at the Paris Air Show in June, 2019. It provides 560 kW, and 2800 Nm of torque. It weighs 135 kg. The smaller magni250 motor provides 280 kW, and 1400 Nm of torque. It weighs 72 kg. Both types of motors rotate at between 1900 and 3000 RPM, and offer 93% power conversion efficiency. Both motors can be regarded as high-power-density electric propulsion systems that provides a clean and efficient way to power airplanes. The company also makes a magniDrive 170 kW power electronics system used to run both the magni250 and magni500.

Sources: Beaver Tails ; Harbour Air ; Magnix ; Wikipedia – Harbour Air Seaplanes & Magnix .