Electric Beaver Makes First Flight


Canadian seaplane company Harbour Air announced that its modified all-electric DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver has successfully completed its first flight. The six-passenger “ePlane,” which the company is calling the world’s first all-electric commercial aircraft, took off from the Fraser River at the Harbour Air Seaplanes terminal in Richmond, British Columbia, on Tuesday morning. The aircraft was piloted by Harbour Air Seaplanes CEO and founder Greg McDougall.

“I am incredibly proud of Harbour Air’s leadership role in re-defining safety and innovation in the aviation and seaplane industry,” said McDougall. “Canada has long held an iconic role in the history of aviation, and to be part of this incredible world-first milestone is something we can all be really proud of.”

For the all-electric conversion, the 60-year-old Beaver was outfitted with the 750-horsepower (560 kW) magniX magni500 propulsion system. Harbour Air and magniX say they now intend to begin work on the certification and approval process for the propulsion system and the aircraft retrofit. As previously reported by AVweb, Harbour Air has announced intentions to eventually convert all of its seaplanes to electric power. The company currently operates “up to 300 daily scheduled flights, scenic tours, adventure packages, and private flights” with a fleet of more than 40 aircraft.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. “The company currently operates ‘up to 300 daily scheduled flights, scenic tours, adventure packages, and private flights’ with a fleet of more than 40 aircraft.”

    With zero accommodation for maintenance outages, that works out to 7.5 sorties per bird per day. For these guys, it’s going to become all about the charging interval.

  2. Indeed a ginormous first step in this category and class of aircraft in a heritage stricken industry which generally rejects new developments. Definitely awesome PR for Harbour Air Seaplanes and a future oriented head of company who knows about the challenges ahead for our industry and does his level darn best to get HA up to speed for an extremely rocky future. Time for the largest Caravan Amphib operator to convert. Make Seaplane Flying Great Again! Time for magni to come out swinging with 150/180/250 shp motors and batteries which offer 4 hours of range. Should conversions clock in at more than cost of overhaul, its going to be tough selling but we’re used to tough selling, correct?

    The devil with pure electrics is (as always) in the details and reconciled by accountants and CFO’s who have to somehow balance the books and amortize conversions of this magnitude without upsetting investors or stockholders.

    We here in Europe have discovered e-transportation to be our new holiest of cows. Critical voices are brand-marked as Greta Thunberg -hating, climate change refusing, white privilege plaqued, yesteryear touting chronic intolerants with no right to continue life on planet earth. An earth, equippped with patches of plastics the size countries, an earth with active vulcanos (which magically do not follow our schedules for eruptions), an earth occupied by thousands and thousands of crude oil burning supertankers, cruiseships and factories as well as active coal-plants and a world with Semi trucks with disabled, chiptuned and coded out of service ad blue systems. We Europeans currently massively unload our 700 mile range Diesels towards Africa (where they continue running for another 15 years, it’s a different environment – thank Monty Python for explaining that concept) for 70 mile – range Volkswagen e-Trons and electric vehicles like 100.000 Euro Teslas.

    A few questions which are not allowed to be asked are: Why did Berlin’s first Tesla Taxi driver hang it up, even though Berlin is full of charging stations? Electricity prices are rising with added demand, wind energy is filthy expensive! Where on earth and how on earth (under which conditions and with which consequences for people and environment) do we extract the Lithium? How many charging cycles can the battery take before it goes flat? Whats the cost and weight of the batteries? What happens with batteries which can not be recycled? What happens to the system/ passengers or airframe if an accidental flip puts the box under water? Most of those pesky questioneers are more than willing and excited about progress. Here in Germany, where we have first hand experience with propaganda and dictatorial representation, many of the questions above cause shrugging shoulders, lots of ah and ems and tons of empty stares. How about asking the same questions to my fellow free American’s – where free speech is supposedly still part of the constitution?

  3. ” leadership role in re-defining safety and innovation in the aviation and seaplane industry”

    They have no basis yet to make that claim.
    All they can claim thus far is being different.
    Now the REAL work begins to see if it is safer , more efficient, cheaper or even cost-effective.

    • Electric motors are efficient and long-lasting. We all know that.
      Batteries are heavy, and don’t like to be charged or discharged quickly. Some of us know that.
      PRESUMING that electric airplanes are a great way to make airplanes more efficient, AND more “green,” the design engeneering challenges are:
      1. Chemistry. Still no Li-Uo (lithium-unobtanium) implementations in sight.
      2. Endurance. See above.
      3. Charging interval. See above.
      4. Packaging. That’s right – how to box up that Li-Uo magic, and provide for the heavy and complex interfaces that will have to exist on both the battery packs AND the airframes of these green vehicles.

      You can criticise fuel tanks and fuel lines and selector valves and boost pumps all day long. But they’re all lightweight, inexpensive, and… reliable. And fuel tanks can be filled in a matter of minutes – an important consideration when you’re burning precious at-gate time. Batteries? See above.

      On the other hand, maybe all of those buss bars, cables, connectors, and battery containments can be fabricated from unobtanium, too. Why didn’t I think of that, earlier?

      My point? None of this is trivial, and bad engineering often begins when some “visionary” puts a cart in front of a horse.

      Has YOUR manager ever tasked you with pushing a rope?

      • These are working airplanes used in business.
        My point (irregardless of ANYTHING else) is that has to make economic business sense.
        Anything less is subsidized madness.

      • “Long-lasting?” The average life of an electric motor under heavy use is about 7 to 10 years. You can ask any rewinder and they can explain the phenomenon that happens to the windings over time. It is still a good source for mechanical energy transmission. When engineering these marvels, one needs to have a contingency plan built in when lives are involved.

  4. Do they use a different propeller? From a design perspective, there is always a conflict between a combustion engine (which would prefer to rotate faster to produce more horsepower) and a prop (which would prefer to rotate slower for increased efficiency). Since electric motors are more efficient than combustion engines at low RPM (max torque at zero RPM) seems like a longer prop would be helpful.

  5. According to magniX website, the motor turns a whopping 1900 RPM at idle power with a max speed at 3000 RPM, likely a bit over what most normal propellers would like. A smashing 2814 Nm / 2075 ft. lbs of continuous torque is rather impressive.

    Not aware of noise measurements, however given that NIMBY groups take offense with birds chirping and thereby disturbing their tranquil environment, I take it that take-off noise will remain a big issue. Heck, I am old, I really love the old radial sound a lot more, but to most numb NIMBY’s, everything with wings is pure terror.

    I have not yet obtained information about reverse capability and there is talk about the motor having been tuned down from it’s 750SHP rating. With a range of 15 minutes per battery load (legal reserve rules likely still apply), it appears as if swapping the battery packs after each flight would make sense. Given that its unknown how much a pack costs and how involved a swap may be, logistics and price will determine usability and fleet readiness. Imagine a logbook entry signed by an A&P each time a battery is flipped, we’ll need a bigger logbook.

    Some reporting indicates that the aircraft must have been close to MGW with just one person on board and the plane didn’t exactly jump out of the water after what appeared to be a takeoff with a skipped step and dragged heels. Brexit plagued – nearly over-regulation- comatose Europeans are definitely watching with eyes wide open. Before we know it, we’ll e- everything over here, replacing furniture with batteries and building houses with the old ones, which – given their environmental footprint when being buried or sunk in the sea – may interfere with Trumps Space Force before to long.

  6. Equipping seaplanes with current or near future electric motors/batteries has to be about the stupidest, feel good, publicity seeking stunt of the year, and you can bet it is being subsidized with “free money” from somewhere because no sound minded business person would invest in such a lark. We can’t even make EVs that operate on terra ferma attractive, efficient or cost effective. Electric airplanes? Maybe when we finally get all the magic propulsion systems from area 51.

    • I’m offended by salesmen using public money under the guise of environmental concerns to create something of worse performance; and then boast like they are winning in some religious crusade. It’s the old “we have to do something even if it’s wrong” that grates the sensibilities of pilots (and scientific people who understand that questioning IS at the very heart of science).

      Let’s wait to see if it fulfills the testing phase before saying it’s worth while in this application.

      • Glad you weren’t around a hundred years ago. We’d all be riding horses with the latest really-excellent saddle designs. How many decades were airplanes subsidized by airmail before they were profitable? Of course the jet engine is just a pipe dream we shouldn’t waste any public money on. Every new technology takes vision, risk, and money losing experimentation. If man were meant to fly he’d have wings.

        • A hundred years ago they were saying “if we had better batteries, then electric cars makes sense” One hundred years of trying and STILL electric is saying the same thing.

          Electric IS NOT new technology and 100 years of serious effort HAS NOT made it practical or cheap or efficient or even “on par” with other technologies. At some point you have to realize that electric is good in theory but not in practical applications like trucks and airliners and long distance travel and safety or even the environment.

  7. December 2003, this Beaver was the third aircraft to fly with the FAA funded Capstone Project installation (+$80,000). Two Chelton screens and a whole lot of wire connecting the half dozen other remote magic boxes.


    Pilots would come and see us pulling our hair out chasing gremlins. Several of them would ask “Where’s the OFF switch? I’ve been flying for 20,000 hours without some video game in the panel”. Less then four months later one of the video games wasn’t working right and those same pilots told me they wouldn’t fly the plane until that bug was fixed. I’d show them where the ‘OFF’ switch was and they’d say things that can’t be repeated here.

    Wise person taught me at a very young age, the future only has two directions… forward or backwards, nothing stays the same. Accept the premise and ‘endeavor to persevere’ or get a horse.

  8. Klaus, part of the answer is to pick the right future. Battery powered airplanes may not be the fututre. Maybe fuel cells, maybe unicorn tears but not batteries. Chasing a dead end is a futile chase.

    Also, there is no pressure to rush to judgement. Gas is cheap and plentiful. Both the US and Canada have vast supplies, both tapped and untapped. We have decades or even generations to figure out the next step before we run out of fuel.

  9. Armchair quarterbacking thoughts. If HA has accepted ev planes for short duration flights fitting within battery capacity while meeting alternate destination reserve. I’m guessing either batteries in wings (not exceeding original wing loads or redesign was already implemented to accommodate batteries ) and in unused areas in the airframe to have more than the projected daily 15-20 minute flights. Perhaps hidden from initial debut may be utilizing what we already know about portable cordless drills, snow blowers, and other cordless tools – the ability to replace batteries on the spot with a fresh power pack for uninterrupted use. Plug the discharged battery into a fast charger. Configured for quick replacement while the plane is down with standby batteries nearby would be the electric equivalent of the gas pump. Portable batteries placed in key locations with charging equipment would be the battery ‘fuel’ depot so a business can have a fresh battery without concern of running low. Logistics would be figured out to make use of extra battery packs. Plug ‘n play when designed as trouble free as possible no different from clipping the ground wire to the plane before fueling. There may be tradeoffs of batteries reducing payload but this may be part of initial teething problems. The wheel wasn’t invented in a day and aircraft engines went thru thousands of iterations to meet specific needs. The same with jet engines. HA may be in the forefront of e-planes and willing to invest in the time and effort for proof of concept, perhaps starting with cargo until daily flights expose any bugs to correct before passengers are carried.