A few months ago, I noted that an electrically powered conversion of the De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver aircraft would soon be flying for Harbor Air Seaplanes. As far as I know, this will be the first commercial use of electrically powered aircraft in the world.
Now comes the news that a brand-new electric aircraft design is set to enter commercial operation in the north-eastern US.
Israeli start-up Eviation Aircraft has announced Cape Air as the commercial launch customer for its Alice all-electric aircraft, with the “double-digit purchase option” from a long-established airline helping to validate the in-development design and put the nascent sector on the map.
Eviation has not disclosed how many aircraft the Hyannis, Massachusetts-based operator has ordered, but company co-founder and chief executive Omer Bar-Yohay says the first example will be delivered in 2022.
The Alice is making its debut at Paris with the first fully-equipped full-scale prototype on display on the static [shown below].
The Alice uses one main Hartzell five-blade pusher-propeller at the tail and two at the wing-tips, to reduce drag, increase redundancy and improve efficiency. Each prop is driven by a 260kW electric motor – supplied by Siemens and MagniX – powered by a 900kWh lithium-ion battery pack, giving Alice a range of 540nm on full charge and a cruise speed of 240kt (440km/h). Bar-Yohay says the battery weighs around 3,700kg (8,200lb), which accounts for around 60% of the Alice’s 5,900kg take-off weight. “[The Alice] is a huge battery with a plane painted on it,” Bar-Yohay says.
The all-composite Alice will seat up to nine passengers and two crew in its 12m (39ft)-long fuselage. The aircraft also features a bespoke fly-by-wire system and flightdeck, supplied by Honeywell.
There’s more at the link.
Here’s an interview with the chief executive of Eviation at the Paris Air Show this past week, in which he discusses the Alice aircraft and its design philosophy.
I note that the powerplant supplier, MagniX, is the same that’s providing the powerplants for the converted Beavers in Canada. Clearly, they’re mounting a big push to dominate the market in this aircraft segment.
I’ll watch this with interest. Cape Air flies short legs with few passengers, feeding them into the larger commuter airliners and mainstream airlines. An electrically powered aircraft is a very logical development for such transportation, while the manufacturers scale up their powerplants and batteries to fit commuter planes (so-called “puddle-jumpers”). I won’t be surprised to see such aircraft powered by electricity within the next ten to fifteen years. I don’t know how long it will take before mainstream airliners will follow, but I doubt I’ll be alive to see it.
In theory at least, there’s no reason why something the size of a Boeing 737 can’t fly using batteries, propellers, and solar cells lining the top of the cabin and wings to top up the batteries in flight. All that’s required is the technology to make the batteries and solar cells take up less space and weigh less. Given that, almost anything’s possible.