eCaravan: a tidbit

eCaravan, an electrified Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, awaiting its first test flight (Photo: MagniX)

On 2020-05-28 aviation history was made, with the first 30 m test flight of an eCaravan, an electrified Cessna 208B Grand Caravan at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington. The eCaravan was modified in Goldcoast, Queensland, Australia by Magnix, so that it is powered by a 560 kW magni500 all-electric propulsion system with a 1 tonne, 750V lithium-ion battery. The flight consumed $6 worth of electricity, needing 30-40 min of charging.

The electric aircraft propulsion company MagniX worked with engineering and flight test specialist AeroTEC on this project. In its current state, the Magni500-powered plane can fly 160 km with 4 or 5 passengers while keeping reserve power. The companies are aiming for a certification by the end of 2021.

In a slightly more distant future, the companies hope to offer machines capable of operating 160 km flights with reserve capacity, and a full load of nine passengers. The longer term goal is to enable 800 km flights, which account for about 45% of all flights flown in the world. Some decades ago, smaller commuter airlines operated such routes. The general aircraft operating these routes disappeared because they were economically unviable. They were replaced by larger, more complex regional jets. Electric aircraft could provide the economic characteristics that make such routes feasible again. However, it is the relatively low energy density of batteries that has constrained the range and payload of electric aircraft. Magnix is studying other technologies, including lithium-sulfur batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.

The advantage of electric propulsion systems is their environmentally friendly operation, fewer moving parts and simplicity, compared to ICE engined aircraft. Some estimate that electric propulsion will reduce operating costs by up to 80%.

In a previous weblog post, Alice, an all-electric, nine-passenger aircraft being developed by Eviation Aircraft, was discussed. That project was disrupted in 2020-01 when an electric system fire damaged an Alice prototype in Arizona. Magnix had also been named one of two companies to supply propulsion systems for it.

The eCaravan in flight at Moses Lake, Washington, USA, 2020-05-28. Photo: Magnix

This weblog post was updated 2020-06-05.

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 .