Aviation history was made in Canada today (2019-12-10) as the world’s first electrically-powered commercial passenger aircraft flew at Vancouver International Airport (YVR).
In a marriage of old and new technology, a 63-year-old de Havilland Canada Beaver floatplane, powered by an advanced MagniX electric propulsion system, lifted off from the airport’s floatplane terminal for its first test flight on a partly cloudy West Coast morning.
At the controls of the modified Harbour Air plane was Greg McDougall, an 8,000-hour Beaver pilot, and the airline’s president.
Instead of a 450 horsepower Pratt & Whitney radial piston engine or a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 turbine, the Beaver is powered by a Magni500 electric motor capable of generating as much as 560 kilowatts, or 750 horsepower.
With the propulsion system de-rated to the electric equivalent of 450 horsepower, the plane’s four-bladed Hartzell composite propeller generated all of the remarkably quiet takeoff sound — a fraction of the thunder from the legacy Beaver’s radial piston — as McDougall pulled the plane “onto the step” and flew off for the short four-minute test flight.
The eBeaver floatplane launches McDougall’s quest to make Vancouver-based Harbour Air a fully-electric airline, building on its more than 12 years as North America’s first carbon-neutral airline.
“The Beaver is the platform where we can get the Transport Canada regulatory process started, because the pathway to certification at this point doesn’t exist. It has to be pioneered,” said McDougall in an exclusive pre-flight interview with Skies.
He explained that as novel as it is, the electric powerplant certification is not unlike the process needed to gain approval for a new engine, such as the Beaver’s conversion from a piston to a turbine.