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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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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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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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Astra and LeoStella make a deal for ion drives

Astra Space says it’s made a deal with Tukwila, Wash.-based LeoStella to provide multiple electric propulsion systems for LeoStella’s small satellites, with deliveries due to begin later this year.

Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.

LeoStella is a joint venture between BlackSky and Thales Alenia Space that builds satellites for BlackSkyLoft Orbital and other customers. California-based Astra Space’s main business line has to do with launching rockets, but last year the company acquired Apollo Fusion, which makes electric propulsion systems.

Electric propulsion systems, also known as ion drives, can provide a gentle but steady oomph for spacecraft by shooting out beams of ions. The Astra / Apollo Fusion systems can make use of xenon or krypton.

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Eviation changes its team as electric flight test nears

Arlington, Wash.-based Eviation says Gregory Davis is assuming the role of interim CEO as part of a planned succession process that reflects the company’s transition to the production phase of its all-electric Alice aircraft.

Davis, who has been serving as Eviation’s president, will take the CEO baton from co-founder Omer Bar-Yohay. Just last month, Roei Ganzarski left the company with Dominique Spragg taking his place as chairman.

Eviation is moving forward toward certification and production readiness for three variants of the Alice airplane, optimized for cargo shipment, commuter passenger service and executive business travel. The aircraft already has undergone months of on-the-ground testing in Arlington.

“Eviation expects to make the first flight of Alice in the upcoming weeks, having completed many preliminary milestones including initial taxi and flight test preparations,” Spragg said today in a news release. “As we complete the technical demonstration phase, Eviation is now preparing for production to make affordable regional air travel a reality in the coming years.”

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Brazilian airplane maker plugs into electric revolution

Everett, Wash.-based MagniX is partnering with the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Desaer to develop a hybrid-electric version of Desaer’s ATL-100 regional aircraft.

The ATL-100H will make use of two Magni350 electric propulsion units as well as two gas-fueled turboprop engines. MagniX says the configuration is designed to save 25% to 40% of fuel, depending on the range of operation.

“The implications of creating the hybrid electric ATL-100H are far-reaching, and will have a positive impact on environmental sustainability and the aircraft’s operational flexibility in the Brazil region,” Simon Roads, head of sales at MagniX, said today in a news release.

Desaer plans to start flying its gas-fueled ATL-100 prototype in 2023, with the first deliveries expected by 2026. The passenger version of the airplane is designed to seat 19. The hybrid-electric version of the plane is expected to come out after the gas-fueled version, presumably with the same specifications.

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Electric aviation executive leaves MagniX and Eviation

Roei Ganzarski, the former Boeing manager who went on to give a boost to all-electric aviation, is leaving his executive posts at Everett, Wash.-based MagniX and at Eviation Aircraft, an electric-airplane manufacturer with offices in Arlington, Wash.

Ganzarski was the CEO of MagniX, which focuses on building electric propulsion systems for aircraft. He was the executive chairman of Eviation, which is getting ready for test flights of its all-electric Alice airplane. Both ventures are owned by the Singapore-based Clermont Group, and Eviation’s Alice aircraft is designed to use MagniX’s propulsion system.

Ganzarski announced his double departure “with a heavy heart” last week, in a LinkedIn post that laid out a list of the companies’ recent achievements — including development deals with B.C.-based Harbour Air and other companies as well as a $74.3 million NASA contract to develop an electric demonstrator aircraft.

“I have no doubt that the future of aviation is electric,” he wrote. “It has to be for the sake of our children and grandchildren. It is no longer a question of if, but only when and who. I leave MagniX and Eviation positioned to continue their leadership in this field.”

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Electric Sky wins DARPA funding for power beaming

A startup called Electric Sky says it’s begun building its first Whisper Beam transmitter for providing tightly focused wireless power to drones in flight, thanks to a $225,000 award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Electric Sky will use the six-month Phase I award, granted through DARPA’s Small Business Innovation Research program, to explore ways to adapt its wireless architecture to power a swarm of drones.

The first phase of the project calls for building and testing a lab-bench demonstration system that would operate at short distances. Those experiments are expected to supply data that can be used to upgrade the system for higher power and longer distances.

Electric Sky has offices in the Seattle area as well as in Midland, Texas. Its CEO is Robert Millman, who previously served as general counsel for Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture. Former XCOR Aerospace CEO Jeff Greason is the company’s co-founder, chief technologist and the inventor of the Whisper Beam system.

The company’s mission is to pioneer novel electric power and propulsion technologies for aircraft and flight vehicles of all sizes.

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NASA boosts electric aviation efforts at MagniX and GE

Everett, Wash.-based MagniX will be getting $74.3 million from NASA over the next five years to demonstrate electric propulsion technologies for aircraft.

The fixed-price / cost-share award is being made through NASA’s Electric Powertrain Flight Demonstration program, or EPFD, which aims to introduce electric powertrain technologies to U.S. aviation fleets no later than 2035.

Another company, Cincinnati-based GE Aviation, is being awarded $179 million through the same program.

“This award from NASA is a testament to the fantastic work being done every day by the team at MagniX,” Roei Ganzarski, MagniX’s CEO, told GeekWire in an email. “This program will enable the next-generation commercial aircraft. We are proud to be in the same cohort with a great company like GE.”

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Swiss battery venture joins electric airplane team

One of the pioneers of battery-powered aviation is joining a Pacific Northwest team that’s aiming to get an all-electric seaplane certified for service in Canada.

H55, the Swiss battery venture co-founded by Solar Impulse pilot André Borschberg, is partnering with Vancouver, B.C.-based Harbour Air Seaplanes and Everett, Wash.-based MagniX on their project to convert De Havilland Beaver commuter airplanes to all-electric power.

Harbour Air is providing the Beaver, MagniX is providing the electric propulsion system, and now H55 will provide its advanced battery modules to power the plane.

MagniX and Harbour Air have been putting a prototype eBeaver through flight tests since December 2019 to gather data on such parameters as cruise performance, takeoff thrust efficiency, electromagnetic interference and noise levels. The team is working with Transport Canada on a supplemental type certificate program to clear converted all-electric planes for commercial operations by as early as next year.

Eventually, Harbour Air plans to transform all of its seaplanes into an all-electric fleet. The company provides commuter air service to a locations along British Columbia’s coast, plus “nerd bird” flights between Vancouver and Seattle.

H55 was founded to continue the vision of Solar Impulse 2, which Borschberg and fellow adventurer Bertrand Piccard piloted around the world on a historic solar-powered trip in 2015-2016.