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Is Electric Aircraft the Future?

Can aviation follow the path of cars and engineer electric aircraft? It took Elon Musk about a decade to create his best-selling Tesla Model 3 electric car. Now every major carmaker is working on its own electric vehicle. In Seattle, Washington, a company called magniX wants to be a Tesla-like trailblazer for electric aviation. Earlier in 2019, they announced plans to partner with Canadian airline Harbour Air to create the first fully electric commercial fleet.

The Electric Aircraft Plan

MagniX says they’ll begin by swapping the fuel tanks and Pratt & Whitney engines on six-passenger Havilland Beaver aircraft in exchange for 560-kilowatt (750-horsepower) electric motor and lithium-ion batteries. They say the batteries provide enough energy to fly about 100 miles on a single charge. Flight tests are slated to happen before the end of the year.

Cost

The cost of retrofitting the planes will not exceed what a standard engine overhaul typically costs. The big payoff, according to MagniX, is that Harbour will no longer have to worry about one its biggest expenses – fuel. Exactly how much savings will be realized by plugging in rather than fueling up is yet to be determined. Harbour does expect to save on maintenance costs after switching to electric propulsion. 

Future Projections

MagniX is working with another partner to design and build an all-electric aircraft that even with today’s batteries would have more than 500 miles of range. The key requirement for electric aircraft is the motor’s power-to-weight ratio. Packing lots of power into a lightweight package is expensive, but might make sense for aircraft.

Challenges

In 2012 one of the fastest electric aircraft flown traveled at 202 mph, compared to Boeing’s 787 which flies at 585 mph. Another challenge is creating a practical cooling system. Thermal management requires a system that can reject anywhere from 50 to 800 kW of heat in flight. Materials are in development for improved thermal performance, along with a lightweight system for the power electronics cooling.

Would you Fly an Electric Aircraft?

It seems we’re still a ways off before electric aircraft are regularly seen in the skies. But with the number of companies and resources going into their development they very well could be a common site in the not too distant future.  If you’ve thought about a career in aviation or getting your private pilot’s license, you might find yourself in the captain’s chair of an electric aircraft one day. If you want to know how you can get started as a pilot, contact us today.

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