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All-electric plane makes first flight – while lugging 2 tons of batteries aloft

Nice R&D efforts. Are we paying attention in Blighty?

An all-electric commercial aeroplane made its first test flight, heralding advances in propulsion and battery technology alike.

The modified Cessna Grand Caravan, a single-engined cargo/passenger aircraft used on short distance hops, was test-flown in the US on 28 May with a 750hp electric motor fitted in place of its gas turbine engine.

As reported by the Seattle Times, Redmond-based electric motor startup Magnix fitted one of its light electric motors to the Cessna 208B for a 30-minute test flight around Moses Lake, Washington state, which is on the western coast of the North American nation.

The eCaravan is a step up from the smaller all-electric DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver that flew in December, which Magnix also had a hand in. Below is a video of the leccy Cessna's flight.

Youtube Video of electric Cessna 208B

Although the eCaravan is an evolution in research'n'development terms, it is not quite a commercial thing just yet: "The cabin of the plane was obstructed by two tons of lithium-ion batteries and cooling equipment, with little room for passengers. It certainly wasn't a cabin setup that would make any sense commercially," reported the newspaper.

There are other electric planes, too, such as the Alpha Electro trainer.

The Magnix test flight marks a sharp contrast with UK-based ambitions for an electric ducted fan to replace conventional turbofan engines. Even in that project the testbed took its gas turbine generator for the electric fan mounted in the fuselage, where passengers would otherwise sit in a commercial airliner.

Nonetheless, Magnix is hopeful for the future: chief exec Roei Ganzarski told the Seattle Times that the batteries in his firm’s experimental Cessna were around a generation behind current models, which he claimed were half the size and weight. Work is said to be ongoing to certify the electric motor and linked systems for commercial use as a drop-in replacement for traditional piston or turboprop engines.

The resulting so-called eCaravan could reach certification by as early as 2022, he predicted, which would certainly give the company a decent lead ahead of British efforts. ®

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