Electric Beaver First Flight Set For Dec. 11


The prototype of what may be the world’s first fully electric airliner, a modified 60-year-old De Havilland Beaver, is tentatively scheduled for its first flight on Dec. 11. Harbour Air, which operates one of the world’s largest seaplane airlines on the west coast of British Columbia, is tentatively planning to fly the aircraft off the Fraser River at Vancouver International Airport with airline CEO Greg McDougall at the controls. “We are thrilled to announce, following the successful installation and testing of the magniX propulsion system, our incredible maintenance team along with our partners have reached the next level of critical milestones,” the company said in a news release.

Transport Canada is, of course, calling the shots on the test flight and while it has signed off on the aircraft itself, it has set some standards for the weather conditions. So far, the forecast is for clouds and showers and temperatures in the high 40s, normal for Vancouver in December, but it’s not clear if that will be good enough for the flight. The plane, with a 750-horsepower magniX motor and a lithium ion battery bank, has been ground tested and the systems have passed Transport Canada’s scrutiny. Harbour Air plans to eventually convert all its historic seaplanes to electric power to serve its short-haul routes to the various island and seacoast destinations it serves. Most flights last less than 30 minutes.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. “Most flights last less than 30 minutes.”
    Soon, perhaps ALL flights will last less than 30 minutes. With apologies to the Bee Gees, “how deep is your charge?”

  2. “Plans to eventually convert all its historic seaplanes to electric power”

    At that point, they cease to be historic.

    • Are the USAF’s KC-135s historic, even with their new engines and glass cockpits? How about a Beaver or Otter with a turbine? What about a Mustang with a digital radio, ADS-B, and GPS? Or Rare Bear, with a different engine, propeller, canopy, cut down wings, etc? Where is the line, oh Great Arbiter of all things correct and right in aviation?

      • What about a Ferrari 275 GTB Series with a Chevy LS1 engine swap?
        What about the Mona Lisa with newly painted eyebrows?
        What about making a Ghostbusters movie with women as the main characters?

        You don’t make something that is historically iconic “better” by modern upgrades.

  3. And so Harbour Air will make its historic seaplanes even more historic in the face of all the normal naysayer suspects and ostriches, just as did their heavier than air predecessors in 1903. Good on Harbour Air!

  4. Electric powered aircraft are not ready for prime time until battery energy density gets higher. As I read so many years ago about electric cars and practicality, “It’s the battery stupid!” Electric cars are just now getting to be practical, but are still a ways from being as versatile as conventional vehicles. An example is the new Tesla truck. You can get 500 miles out of it unless you need to tow something. Then the mileage goes down to a 100 miles to 150 miles depending on terrain. Energy density needs to triple before the weight penalty evens out.

  5. I think we need to distinguish between electrically based powerplants vs. the power supply for that engine type…clearly there is a long way to go with battery energy density, however, if you have a platform that is primarily electrically based, the range/performance will only get better as the power source/s become more efficient. This upcoming flight has to be one of the most exciting “firsts” for a long time…electric powerplants are the future, and whatever powers them will evolve. Truly exciting times – best wishes to them!

  6. As with any innovation, someone has to take the concept and put it into reality for refinement. Kudos to Harbor Air and all of the participants/suppliers.

    Instead of the normal, pie in the sky hype, of egg shaped composite aerial vehicles capable of hauling little more than eggs they are shaped like, we have a 750HP DeHavilland Beaver that can carry about anything one could stuff into it with 450HP on the nose. Round cowl, with rivet bumps all over it, dragging around party boat sized floats, operating on water, in a less than perfect climate, with the CEO of the company at the controls. This is run what ya brung. Yeah, and way cool.

  7. I wish Harbour Air good luck. Personally, I would love to fly behind an electric motor that eliminates all the maintenance, oil changes and leaded fuel headaches of “modern” piston engines. But, I fear the future is too far out for me to see the day. I read a vehicle review this weekend talking about an all-electric SUV that just hit the market. Their comments were that the 1,500 pound battery pack was mounted low to help give the vehicle stability on their slalom maneuvers test track. That 3/4 ton pack only gave the vehicle a 200 mile range. True electric flight will be practical when the range doubles and the weight is cut in half or more. But, Harbour Air’s experiment will provide real world testing that should help refine and accelerate the process. Nothing beats actual field experience for any new product.

  8. This is really exciting news! Within a year Harbour Air will be the first airline to have an all-electric fleet. And I am guessing that the engineers at work on this project are planning for the future when battery technology improves so that with the swap of a battery pack that one hour range becomes a 7 hour range overnight! At least that’s what I would be expecting considering this relatively recent news out of the University of Illinois Chicago: https://www.pv-magazine.com/2019/10/17/us-scientists-create-first-rechargeable-lithium-carbon-dioxide-battery/.

    Also nice to see a lot more positive comments here on AvWeb regarding electric aircraft. Up until now most of the comments on similar articles have been the equivalent of “get off my lawn”. Glad to see more readers with vision.

  9. If you go with an onboard generating system – you can cut the weight down to one fifth of what you have now. We can now fly electric without batteries. We only use a small pack as a backup for landing. Biofuel has zero pollution and more energy than gas. Why not have long flight times instead of long charging times? Fast charging will diminish your cycle life immensely.

  10. “Biofuel has zero pollution and more energy than gas.”
    Nonsensical propaganda. How is bio-kerosene immune from creating NOXs during combustion? Seriously.

  11. A couple comments on the UIC article. First, an increase in energy density does not necessarily equate to an equal increase in power output. It more likely means a lighter battery with the same output. Second, surviving through 500 charge cycles may be a step in the right direction, but most viable lithium batteries now in service will go over 4,000 cycles, and some designs can go up to 10,000 cycles. Third, the “carbon neutral” system does not mean it is carbon neutral with regard to the environment. It means it is carbon neutral within the battery. In other words, they found a way to keep carbon from building up on the catalyst. Big difference. Finally, saying biofuel has zero pollution and more energy than gas is not exactly correct. You are correct that biofuel has a lower carbon footprint than petroleum kerosene, if you consider the whole carbon cycle. However, depending on how the biodiesel is made, it may not be a viable fuel on its own. The common saponification method makes a diesel-like material that has to be blended with pet-diesel to work in turbine engines. The normal ratio is about 80-90% petroleum and 10-20% bio. The hydrocracking method makes a fuel that can run without blending, but the process is more energy intensive and uses up much of the carbon emissions advantages. Its main intent is to use a waste product (beef tallow from meat production and waste cooking oils) that would otherwise be a disposal problem. And, while it is true that biodiesel has more energy that gas(oline), so does petroleum diesel. It’s called energy density. Oh, and biodiesel produces more CO2 emissions that gasoline. Again, no free lunch.

    I don’t mean to sound negative on electric flight; I’m not. But, one should be realistic about its environmental impact and whether battery technology is ready for prime time. The Harbour Air “experiment” could tell us a lot about that.

  12. For that matter, the idea that electric flight does not contribute to air pollution is equally nonsensical propaganda. Somewhere in the chain of events to plug a charger into an electrical socket, there is a pollution contribution in the process. Apparently, since the end user is not contributing to pollution similarly to our more common fossil fuel burners, the problem of contributing to pollution does not exist when employing electrical power. Plus, there seems to be reluctance to discuss where all of these used batteries, especially 1500+ pounds of them at a time will go when these “zero emitting” electrical sources are used up. I am no chemist nor an engineer electrical or otherwise, but these new battery packs look like a science project with all sorts of potential toxic issues when worn or used up.

    Harbor Air is smart in reducing operational costs, simplifying between flight maintenance, and getting a ton of power out of these motors, to safely haul the loads they normally do every day with PW 985’s. I doubt, their primary reason for converting to electric has much to do with pollution contribution. But that is a promotional bonus derived from propaganda that electric power does not contribute to pollution.

    • Jim
      How can an electric generating system pollute when using a non polluting fuel? Our battery pack (which is charged with a wall charger) is only a backup for safety. The main supply is generated on board.

      • Don L….Please reveal your “secret sauce” non-polluting bio-fuel, how this soon to be produced on-board, electrical generating system works, it’s weight and dimensions, and the weight/dimensions of the battery back up. Somehow in your vague description, it still appears to be a combustion process involved in the generation of on-board electricity. As Mark F asks…if you have developed a “bio-fuel”, that is not a kerosene/diesel mix, but somehow supports a zero emitting combustion process, why not employ that in a PT-6 while developing your on-board electrical generator. Win-win for today and the future. I am sure Harbor Air would be equally interested.

        • There 2 non petroleum fuels available to choose from. If needed, our emergency 60# pack is good for 30 to 60 min. depending on conditions. I am “vague” for a good reason. My years of research is not free.

          • Don L…I understand your answer, “vagueness”, and will predict that shortly, you will be a very wealthy man. Because, if after all those years of research, you have two non-petroleum fuels that support combustion without pollution, even if it works only in your electric power generator, you have achieved what many here would say is impossible.

          • Making fuel from bio sources requires lots of energy.
            Distilling the fuel takes even more energy.
            Using the fuel in a gas engine wastes 80% of it’s energy.

            Basically it’s a huge net energy LOSER when you decide to use non-petroleum fuels. The project seems rife with “vagueness” because anyone who actually passed 5th grade mathematics can do enough ciphering to see that the numbers will never add up in this universe based on physical laws.

        • There is a plant that produces 4 times the biofuel than soybeans and 10 times more than corn. It grows in drought ridden lands and resist bugs. Dollar for Dollar, would you rather pay a farmer or the oil companies? Lithium batteries are made outside of the US because of the pollution required to make them. There is also a plant that works better in batteries than what we are using now. To make them is also pollution free. Singapore is now using a process that consumes plastic trash to generate electricity and the waste is dumped into the ocean where new life is now thriving because of it.

          Why do we seem to do everything backwards before we get it right?

          • It’s more energy efficient to for oil producers to produce fuel. That’s what they do and they do it very efficiently.

            Farmers need to grow FOOD because ethically, there are hungry people in the world that need FOOD. There is plenty of fuel.

            Why do people think doing things INEFFICIENTLY is morally superior than doing them the best way?

  13. No need for this at this time.

    There is plenty of fuel available for the foreseeable future and this is unproven technology.

    30 minutes? would you take off in your 172 with 3.5 gallons in the tank? How is that a good idea?

    Add in the BC climate. Possible poor weather, icing, diversions, and the fact that batteries perform poorly at low temperatures.

    Also, why would anyone want to neuter such an iconic aircraft as a Beaver? Especially since its essentially a national symbol for Canada? It would be like a 4 cylinder Corvette in America.

    Look at electric cars. Still primitive in development with poor range and high environmental impact and poor quality of production issues. It is true some of them can accelerate well but they lag far behind advanced ICE vehicles in so many areas. And the price! But at least liberal eco-Nazis can virtue signal to one another. I suppose an airplane does the same thing.

    I would not mind ditching out current 1930’s piston engine powerplants in favor of more modern ones with digital automatic fuel injection, electronic ignition etc. but the day for electric being needed or viable is far in the future, hopefully after my need for this rock is over.

  14. No virtual reality, pie in the sky video hype…Harbor Air is gitten er dun!

    Congratulations to all involved. It flies and they get to use the airplane again. I am looking forward to this evolutionary process.

    What was clear was the sound of the prop. This is only one prop turning. I can now imagine the collective noise of some 12 or more propellers churning in their V-TOL attempts to lift two average people vertically. This might be a great time to buy up all the used Beavers since Harbor Air’s endeavor looks like a much better prospect for urban transportation than CORA.

    • Yea, THANKS! Looks like it’s sitting really low in the water. I would assume that they would only operate as long as there were no swells?