A Cessna Grand Caravan modified with an electric motor powered by batteries that weigh more than an empty Skyhawk made a bit of history with its maiden flight, a 28-minute sortie that rendered it, according to motor-maker magniX, the largest aircraft yet to fly on electricity alone.
The May 28 flight over Moses Lake, Washington, viewed by thousands online, was as uneventful as one would want, from an aeronautical standpoint. Time will tell what place it holds in history. As NBC News noted, the magniX 500 power system will be a short-haul specialist until battery technology improves. This “magnified” electric retrofit prototype will endure a long series of certification tests that the companies involved (AeroTEC is collaborating with magniX on the electric Caravan project) hope to complete by the end of 2021.
While the eCaravan “burned” just $6 of electricity on its half-hour first flight, and lithium-ion batteries have proven they can safely fly, they lack the energy density required for long-distance air travel. Other electric aviation pioneers like Bye Aerospace are taking a hard look at lithium-sulfur batteries, which could give a smaller single-engine aircraft such as Bye’s eFlyer 4 more than four hours of endurance. Others, including a European collaboration involving Airbus, Daher, and Safran, are aiming at a hybrid solution that would extend the reach of electric aircraft with some help from fossil fuels.
None of this diminishes the enthusiasm of proponents, including another magniX customer, Harbour Air, the largest seaplane airline in North America, which is working to convert its fleet to electric power. Ganzarski said in an email exchange in May that the Harbour Air test program is proceeding apace, though he was tight-lipped about the development of yet another customer’s aircraft: Eviation Aircraft’s Alice prototype caught fire on the ground in January, though the mishap was attributed at the time to a ground-based battery rather than an aircraft system. Ganzarski said that project is still in development, but he declined to elaborate.
Ganzarski told NBC News that he expects electric aircraft to eventually (and efficiently) fly up to 1,000 miles.