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Boeing and Safran boost electric aviation venture

Electric Power Systems CEO Nathan Millecam says he’s thrilled to be working with Boeing and Safran. (EPS Photo)

Boeing HorizonX Ventures and Safran Corporate Ventures say they’ve made a joint investment in Utah-based Electric Power Systems, a company whose energy storage products are blazing a trail for electric airplanes.

It’s the latest tie-up for Boeing and Safran, which have partnered up in such ventures as Initium Aerospace, a manufacturer of auxiliary power units for airplanes; and MATIS Aerospace, a company in Morocco that produces wiring products for several airframe and engine companies.

The size of the Series A funding round was not disclosed, but Boeing HorizonX’s investments typically range from millions of dollars to the low tens of millions of dollars.

Representatives of both companies said the funding will help Electric Power Systems develop a highly automated industrial base capable of producing aviation-grade energy storage systems, and advance technologies aimed at reducing the cost of battery systems for electric airplanes.

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MagniX will put motors on Eviation electric plane

Alice electric plane
A wire-frame illustration shows Eviation’s design for the all-electric Alice airplane, with MagniX’s motors at the wingtips and on the tail. (Eviation via MagniX)

Eviation says it has selected Redmond, Wash.-based MagniX to become a propulsion system provider for its Alice all-electric airplane, a nine-seater that’s due to go into commercial service as early as 2022.

An Alice aircraft equipped with three 375-horsepower Magni250 motors will make its debut at the Paris Air Show in June, MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski said.

“They’re going to have a fully functioning aircraft, their first of type, at the Paris Air Show,” Ganzarski told GeekWire. “Our propulsion system is going to be on it.”

After the show, the plane is due to be shipped to Arizona and begin flight testing by the end of the year. Eviation, which is headquartered in Israel, wants to have the plane certified by the Federal Aviation Administration by the end of 2021 and aims to start delivering the planes to customers in 2022.

Customers will be able to choose between MagniX’s propulsion system and a different system offered by Siemens. The Siemens propulsion deal was announced in February.

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MagniX, Harbour Air team up on all-electric planes

Harbour Air seaplane
MagniX’s 750-horsepower magni500 all-electric motor will be used on a converted Harbour Air DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver seaplane for tests. (Harbour Air Photo)

Two Pacific Northwest companies — MagniX, an electric propulsion venture headquartered in Redmond, Wash.; and Harbour Air Seaplanes, an airline based in Vancouver, B.C. — say they have a firm plan to create the first all-electric fleet of commercial airplanes.

MagniX aims to start by outfitting a Harbour Air DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver with its 750-horsepower magni500 electric motor for a series of test flights scheduled to begin by the end of this year. The electric propulsion company, which shifted its global HQ from Australia to Redmond last year, has tested a prototype motor on the ground — but this would be the first aerial test of the technology.

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MagniX revs up electric motors for airplanes

Magnix CEO Roei Ganzarski with motor
MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski shows off a drum-sized, 350-horsepower electric motor that will soon be hooked up to an airplane propeller at the company’s lab in Redmond, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

REDMOND, Wash. — An electric-propulsion company called MagniX shifted its headquarters from Australia to Redmond just a few months ago — but it’s already revving up for takeoff.

The venture, owned by Singapore-based Clermont Group, is on track to conduct its first flight tests with an all-electric motor installed in a converted plane by the end of the year, CEO Roei Ganzarski told GeekWire this week during a tour of MagniX’s digs.

The two-story office space in Redmond already houses more than 15 employees, and Ganzarski plans to hire 20 more in the next three months, mostly in engineering. Roughly 50 more employees are working at MagniX’s engineering facility in Arundel, about 40 miles south of Brisbane on Australia’s Gold Coast.

Ganzarski, a Boeing veteran, said the company moved its global HQ to Redmond to take advantage of the Seattle area’s engineering talent and its aerospace ecosystem. “You can’t be a world leader in aerospace from Australia. … We decided that the most logical place for us would be Seattle, Washington,” he said.

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Boeing’s passenger air vehicle makes debut

Passenger air vehicle
Boeing’s passenger air vehicle takes flight at a testing ground in Manassas, Va. (Boeing Photo)

Boeing says it has successfully completed the first test flight of a prototype for its autonomous passenger air vehicle, which could start carrying riders as early as next year.

The test was executed on Jan. 22 at an airport in Manassas, Va., near the headquarters of Aurora Flight Sciences, the Boeing subsidiary that’s been developing the electric-powered, vertical takeoff-and-landing aircraft, also known as an eVTOL craft. Boeing NeXt, the business unit that leads Boeing’s urban air mobility efforts, is in charge of the test program.

The uncrewed flight lasted less than a minute and involved a controlled takeoff, hover and landing. The maneuvers were designed to test the prototype’s autonomous functions and ground control systems. A test dummy was strapped inside the cockpit for the ride.

Boeing said future flights will test forward, wing-borne flight, as well as the transition phase between vertical flight and forward flight. That transition is considered the most challenging mode for high-speed eVTOL aircraft.

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Report: Flying-car market could hit $1.5 trillion

Aurora eVTOL
An artist’s conception shows the eVTOL air taxi being developed by Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing subsidiary. (Aurora / BCG Digital Ventures via YouTube)

The market for autonomous flying cars — also known as eVTOL aircraft, air taxis or personal air vehicles — could amount to nearly $1.5 trillion by the year 2040, according to an in-depth analysis from Morgan Stanley Research.

The financial company’s 85-page report, distributed to clients this week, draws together data from a host of sources, including a private-public symposium on urban air mobility that was conducted last month in Seattle.

“We see the development of the UAM [urban air mobility] ecosystem as extremely long-dated and requiring up-front capital allocation, testing and development in the short term, with increasing visibility;” said Morgan Stanley’s research team, which includes senior analyst Adam Jonas.

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Boeing invests in electric space propulsion

Thruster chips on satellite
An artist’s conception shows Accion Systems’ electrospray thruster chips (in gold) arranged in a propulsion array on a satellite. (Accion Systems Illustration / Zina Deretsky)

Boeing’s venture capital fund is leading a $3 million investment round for Accion Systems, a Boston-based startup whose electric propulsion system for satellites could get its next in-space test early as next month.

Joining Boeing HorizonX Ventures in the Series B round is GettyLab, a Bay Area venture fund focusing on innovations in science and technology.

Accion’s propulsion system is certainly innovative, and in line with the increased emphasis at Boeing and elsewhere on electric propulsion for space applications.

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Zunum picks Safran for its electric aircraft team

Zunum hybrid-electric design
Zunum Aero’s hybrid-electric design features batteries in the wings, and a gas turbine coupled with an electrical generator in the back. Quiet electric propulsors power the plane. (Zunum Aero Illustration)

Zunum Aero has selected France’s Safran Helicopter Engines to provide a new-generation engine turbine for its hybrid-to-electric airplane, due for first flight in the early 2020s.

Safran’s Ardiden 3Z engine will drive the electrical generator for Zunum’s 12-seat ZA10 aircraft, supplementing the energy stored in the plane’s batteries with peak power of 500 kilowatts during key stages of flight and over long ranges, Zunum said today in a news releaseThe aircraft will be able to cruise and land on turbo-generator power alone, offering full redundancy. 

The ZA10 is being designed for a range of 700 miles, with an eye toward enabling affordable operations at tens of thousands of underused regional-size airports around the world.

Zunum, which is headquartered in Bothell, Wash., says the aircraft should drive operating costs down to 8 cents per available seat mile, or $250 per hour. That’s said to be 60 to 80 percent lower than comparable conventional aircraft of comparable size.

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Zunum strikes deal with JetSuite for electric planes

JetSuite Zunum Aero plane
Artwork shows Zunum Aero’s hybrid-electric airplane in JetSuite’s livery. (Zunum Aero Illustration)

Zunum Aero says its first hybrid-to-electric airplanes will wear the colors of JetSuite, a private aviation company that’s a partner of JetBlue Airways.

Kirkland, Wash.-based Zunum Aero, which has financial backing from JetBlue Technology Ventures as well as Boeing HorizonX and the State of Washington Clean Energy Fund, aims to start flight tests in 2019 and deliver its first regional-class plane in 2022.

Eventually, California-based JetSuite plans to add 100 of Zunum’s planes to its fleet, the two companies said today in a news release.

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Vahana air taxi makes first test flight in Oregon

Vahana flight
Vahana’s Alpha One air-taxi prototype flies over a test range in eastern Oregon. (Vahana Photo)

This week marked a milestone for Airbus Ventures’ Vahana team, which is developing a self-flying, electric-powered air taxi — also known as a flying car.

Vahana’s 20-foot-wide Alpha One prototype executed its first test flight at the Pendleton Unmanned Aerial Systems Range in eastern Oregon, rising to a height of 16 feet (5 meters) during 53 seconds in the air on Jan. 31.

Another test flight came a day later, Vahana project leader Zach Lovering reported in a Medium posting.

Representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration and Airbus’ A3 advanced-projects division were in attendance, along with the full Vahana team, Lovering said.

“In just under two years, Vahana took a concept sketch on a napkin and built a full-scale, self-piloted aircraft that has successfully completed its first flight,” he said in a news release.

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