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GeekWire

Eviation’s all-electric plane aces its first flight test

MOSES LAKE, Wash. — After years of on-the-ground development, Eviation’s all-electric Alice airplane quietly took to the air here this morning for its first test flight.

Test pilot Steve Crane guided the nine-passenger aircraft, powered by two 640-kilowatt electric motors, through its takeoff from Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, a facility in Eastern Washington’s high desert that’s often used for testing innovations in aviation.

When the motors revved up, they sounded like electric grass trimmers. And when the plane flew overhead, the noise was more like a hum than a roar.

Alice flew for lasted eight minutes and reached a maximum altitude of 3,500 feet before landing safely back at the airport.

So how was the ride? “It was wonderful,” Crane said. “It handled just like we thought it would. Very responsive, very quick to the throttle, and it came on in for a wonderful landing. I couldn’t be happier.”

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GeekWire

Eviation makes a deal to sell electric airplanes to GlobalX

Arlington, Wash.-based Eviation says that GlobalX, an air charter operator based in Miami, has signed a letter of intent to order 50 of Eviation’s all-electric Alice commuter aircraft.

The nine-passenger aircraft will open up new routes for passenger travel in GlobalX’s key markets in Florida, the Bahamas and the Caribbean, Eviation said today in a news release.

“The Alice aircraft will allow us to offer sustainable regional flights to and from major markets, and is the first step in our initiative to be a zero-carbon emissions airline by 2050,” said Ed Wegel, GlobalX’s chair and CEO.

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Fiction Science Club

Zeva’s flying saucer concept ascends to the next level

Eight months ago, Zeva Aero conducted a milestone flight test for an electric-powered flying saucer that would warm the heart of any sci-fi fan. Now the Tacoma, Wash.-based startup has changed the design ⁠— and although Zeva’s Z2 will look less like a UFO, it will look more real.

“It’s not just science fiction,” Zeva CEO Stephen Tibbitts says.

Tibbitts explains what’s changed since January, and why, in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast, which focuses on the intersection of science and fiction.

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GeekWire

Microsoft pushes autonomous drones to new heights

How do you teach an autonomous drone to fly itself? Practice, practice, practice.

Now Microsoft is offering a way to put a drone’s control software through its paces millions of times before the first takeoff.

The cloud-based simulation platform, Project AirSim, is being made available in limited preview starting today, in conjunction with this week’s Farnborough International Airshow in Britain.

“Project AirSim is a critical tool that lets us bridge the world of bits and the world of atoms, and it shows the power of the industrial metaverse — the virtual worlds where businesses will build, test and hone solutions, and then bring them into the real world,” Gurdeep Pall, Microsoft corporate vice president for business incubations in technology and research, said today in a blog posting.

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GeekWire

Stratolaunch hits new heights with world’s biggest plane

Stratolaunch says its mammoth carrier airplane rose to its highest altitude yet during its seventh flight test over California’s Mojave Desert.

The aerospace venture, which was established by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen more than a decade ago but is now owned by a private equity firm, reported a peak altitude of 27,000 feet during today’s test.

If all goes according to plan, the twin-fuselage Roc airplane could begin flying Stratolaunch’s Talon-A hypersonic test vehicles for captive-carry and separation testing as early as this year.

One of the prime objectives for today’s three-hour flight at the Mojave Air and Space Port was to gather data on the aerodynamic characteristics of the plane, including a pylon structure from which the rocket-powered Talon-A vehicles will be released and launched.

Roc’s seventh flight came a week after the sixth flight test, which couldn’t achieve all of its objectives.

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GeekWire

World’s widest airplane lands early after flight test

Stratolaunch says the sixth flight test of its super-sized Roc carrier airplane ended earlier than planned when the team ran into an unexpected issue.

“While completing Roc testing operations, we encountered a test result that made it clear we would not achieve all objectives for this flight,” the California-based company, which was created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen more than a decade ago, said in Twitter update. “We made the decision to land, review the data, and prepare for our next flight.”

Stratolaunch’s 385-foot-wide, twin-fuselage airplane is the world’s largest aircraft by wingspan. Stratolaunch has been testing Roc at Mojave Air and Space Port in preparation for using the plane as a flying launch pad for rocket-powered hypersonic test vehicles.

The company, which was acquired from Allen’s estate by a private equity firm in 2019, didn’t specify the nature of the test results that led to the decision to land. For what it’s worth, one of the flight’s key objectives was to expand the testing envelope for the center-wing pylon that will carry and release the hypersonic vehicles.

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GeekWire

Stratolaunch marks May the 4th with fifth flight test

Stratolaunch took the “fifth” on May the 4th, otherwise known as Star Wars Day. Today brought the fifth flight test for Stratolaunch’s 385-foot-wide carrier aircraft, known as Roc (in a nod to the giant bird of Middle Eastern mythology).

Roc ranks as the world’s largest airplane by wingspan, and is designed to carry and release the company’s rocket-powered Talon-A hypersonic vehicles for military and commercial applications.

Seattle billionaire Paul Allen, the late co-founder of Microsoft, founded the venture in 2011 — but after Allen’s death in 2018, ownership was transferred to a private equity firm. Like Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit, Stratolaunch takes advantage of air-launch technology pioneered during the award-winning SpaceShipOne campaign that Allen bankrolled nearly two decades ago.

Roc took off from California’s Mojave Air and Space Port at 7:39 a.m. PT today for a flight that lasted four hours and 58 minutes and reached a maximum altitude of 22,500 feet. Stratolaunch took note of the Star Wars Day connection in a post-landing tweet. “The force is strong in this plane,” the company said.

The test’s prime objective was to check the aerodynamic performance of a new pylon added to Roc’s center wing section.

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GeekWire

Aviation collection reportedly sold to Walmart heir

Three and a half years after his death, another one of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s passion projects — the extensive collection of aviation and military artifacts that was housed at the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum in Everett, Wash. — has reportedly been sold off by his estate.

Air Current magazine reported late last week that the museum’s entire collection was sold “in its entirety.”

“Many of the projects are being crated for shipment to their new home while the flying aircraft are being readied for cross-country trips,” the magazine said on its Facebook page. “One man’s dream has come to an end, but another man’s dream has just begun.”

The collection’s new owner is Steuart Walton, the grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton, according to Scramble, a publication of the Dutch Aviation Society.

Walton is the co-founder of Runway Group, a holding company with investments in northwest Arkansas; and the co-founder and chairman of Game Composites, a company that designs and builds small composite aircraft.

He serves on the board of directors for Walmart and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, among other organizations, and is a licensed pilot as well as an aircraft collector. His net worth has been estimated at $300 million.

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GeekWire

Eviation makes a deal to sell 75 electric airplanes

A Seattle-area venture called Eviation has struck a deal with Massachusetts-based Cape Air for the purchase of 75 Eviation Alice all-electric planes.

The letter of intent follows up on a claim that was made back in 2019 by Eviation’s then-CEO, Omer Bar-Yohay, who said Cape Air would be his company’s first customer. At the time, Bar-Yohay said the list price for the Alice commuter aircraft would be $4 million per plane — but Eviation said it’s not releasing financial details about the Cape Air deal.

Bar-Yohay left Eviation in February, citing “a longstanding disagreement” with the company’s main shareholder, Singapore-based Clermont Group. Longtime aerospace executive Gregory Davis took over as interim CEO for the privately held company, which is headquartered in Arlington, Wash.

Eviation has begun ground tests of an Alice prototype, and those tests haven’t always gone perfectly — which is to be expected with a totally new type of aircraft. In February, Eviation said Alice’s first flight test would take place “in the upcoming weeks,” but the company now says it plans to reach that milestone this summer.

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GeekWire

‘Downfall’ recounts 737 MAX mess as a tech tragedy

The missteps traced in “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing” — Netflix’s new documentary about Boeing’s troubled 737 MAX jet — are the stuff of Greek tragedy.

Under the direction of filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the youngest child of Robert F. Kennedy, “Downfall” recounts how the aerospace giant cut corners in a race to compete against Airbus, and pressed mightily to minimize the known problems with a computerized flight control system that was capable of causing the 737 MAX to go into a fatal dive.

The result? Not just one, but two catastrophic crashes — first in Indonesia, in 2018, and only months later in Ethiopia. The combined death toll amounted to 346 people. The jets were grounded for nearly two years while Boeing worked on a fix to the control system.

When the Indonesian crash occurred, the root cause seemed to be shrouded in uncertainty. But subsequent investigations showed that Boeing knew the cause had to do with tweaks in an automated software routine known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.

In the early stages of those investigations, I struggled to explain what MCAS was supposed to do (keep planes from stalling under extreme conditions) and what it ended up doing (forcing planes into a dive). “Downfall” uses graphics and re-enactments to show how MCAS and other points of failure on the 737 MAX figured in the tragedy.

The film also lays out evidence from emails and other documents showing that when the 737 MAX was undergoing certification for flight, Boeing was desperate to avoid providing pilots with extra training, at extra cost — so desperate that the company hid the MCAS software’s capabilities from pilots, airlines and regulators.