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Hydrogen-powered airplane revs up for flight tests

Is hydrogen the green aviation fuel of the future? An industry team led by California-based Universal Hydrogen is testing out that proposition amid the scrublands of central Washington state.

Universal Hydrogen is readying its converted De Havilland Dash 8-300 turboprop plane for initial flight tests later this year at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Wash., with an assist from Washington state partners including Seattle-based AeroTEC and Everett-based MagniX.

Last week, Universal Hydrogen announced that it spun up the propeller on the plane’s MagniX-built electric motor powered completely by hydrogen fuel for the first time. This week, “Lightning McClean” is set to start ground testing in earnest.

“We’ll run the powertrain on the ground with the aircraft static … up to maximum power,” Mark Cousin, Universal Hydrogen’s chief technology officer, told me. “Once we’re happy with the behavior of the system, we will then move into taxi testing and the buildup to flight.”

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MagniX adds hydrogen to its carbon-free aviation menu

MagniX has been working on electric propulsion systems for years, but now the Everett, Wash.-based venture is adding hydrogen fuel cells to its power repertoire for carbon-free flight.

The expansion plan follows up on MagniX’s partnership with Universal Hydrogen, announced two years ago, and on last month’s initial flight test of an all-electric Eviation airplane equipped with MagniX’s 650-kilowatt motors.

Last year, MagniX and Universal Hydrogen said they’d work with Plug Power and AeroTEC to create a Hydrogen Aviation Test and Service Center at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Wash., where the Eviation flight test took place.

Today MagniX said it would start developing hydrogen fuel cells to complement its battery electric and hybrid electric propulsion systems.

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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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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.

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Aviation vision fueled by hydrogen and electricity

Redmond, Wash.-based MagniX says it’s partnering with a Los Angeles startup called Universal Hydrogen to retrofit 40-passenger regional aircraft with carbon-free, hydrogen-fueled electric powertrains.

The partnership opens up a new frontier for MagniX, which is already involved in flight tests for all-electric versions of smaller airplanes such as the de Havilland Beaver (for Vancouver, B.C.-based Harbour Air) and the Cessna Grand Caravan.

This time, MagniX and Universal Hydrogen aim to transform the de Havilland Canada DHC8-Q300, better known as the Dash 8. The Dash 8 is a time-honored twin turboprop traditionally used for commercial regional air service. If the project succeeds, the lessons learned can be applied for the development of retrofit conversion kits for the wider ATR 42 family of aircraft.

Universal Hydrogen’s plan for the Dash 8 calls for MagniX to provide an electric propulsion system in the 2-megawatt class for each wing, powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

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All-electric Cessna airplane takes to the air

MagniX airplane and Roei Ganzarski
MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski talks about his company’s all-electric Cessna Grand Caravan airplane, parked in the background at Moses Lake’s airport after its first flight. Ganzarski wears a mask to conform to social distancing requirements during the coronavirus pandemic. (MagniX via Facebook)

An all-electric version of one of the world’s best-known small utility airplanes hummed through its first flight today at Moses Lake in central Washington state.

Redmond, Wash.-based MagniX and Seattle-based AeroTEC were in charge of the test, which focused on the performance of a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan powered by MagniX’s 750-horsepower Magni500 propulsion system.

During today’s 30-minute-long test flight, the hum of the modified eCaravan’s motor was drowned out by the relative roar of the chase plane’s engine. “The small Cessna is making about double the noise,” MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski said during his webcast commentary.

AeroTEC test pilot Steve Crane took the plane up as high as 2,500 feet during what he termed a “flawless” test flight.

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Harbour Air’s electric seaplane makes first flight

Harbour Air's electric seaplane
Harbour Air’s all-electric seaplane takes its first test flight. (Harbour Air via Twitter)

The cheers seemed louder than the motor when Harbour Air’s all-electric seaplane made its first flight over the Fraser River today, marking a milestone for zero-emission propulsion.

Vancouver, B.C.-based Harbour Air had the decades-old de Havilland Beaver plane converted to use Redmond, Wash.-based MagniX’s 750-horsepower Magni500 electric motor, and today’s flight from the airline’s terminal south of Vancouver’s airport kicked off what’s expected to be a two-year-long certification process.

Harbour Air and MagniX have been building up to the milestone for months. On Monday, the plane’s floats lifted out of the water briefly for a “skip test,” but today’s straight-line trip up the river and back was considered the first honest-to-goodness flight test. Harbour Air CEO Greg McDougall was at the controls.

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The electric aviation revolution will be televised

Harbour Air electric plane
MagniX’s Magni500 electric motor is installed in Harbour Air’s de Havilland Beaver, in preparation for flight tests. (MagniX / Harbour Air Photo)

Two Pacific Northwest aviation ventures — the Harbour Air seaplane airline in Vancouver, B.C., and the MagniX electric propulsion company in Redmond, Wash. — are ready to start flight tests of an all-electric passenger airplane. And those first tests are due to be live-streamed via Twitter.

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