- A nine-passenger, all-electric Cessna 208 flew for 30 minutes on Thursday.
- The same engineering firm, magniX, propelled the first commercial electric flight of a smaller Cessna in December.
- The Cessna is badass.
On a clear and gorgeous day in inland Moses Lake, Washington, the specially fitted Cessna 208B Grand Caravan took off for an expected 20- to 30-minute test flight. The aircraft seats up to nine people, and a chase plane—one designated to assist and document the flight—followed along for what ended up being a 30-minute flight.
magniX emerged in 2009 to disrupt the air travel industry by making alternative power more attractive for owner operators. The company's team includes members from companies like Airbus, Boeing, Google-X, SpaceX, and Tesla, according to its website.
Yesterday's demonstration follows another important flight last December, where a smaller magniX plane, in collaboration with regional shuttle airline Harbour Air, flew for 15 minutes. In fact, magniX and Harbour first announced their plans to partner and make Harbour the “world’s first all electric airline” in March 2019.
The Grand Caravan is outfitted with magniX’s battery-powered electric engine, the Magni250, which turns 375 horsepower into up to 3000 RPM. The Cessna is a propeller plane, and the engine literally turns torque into propulsion.
The company's CEO, Roei Ganzarski, told The Guardian that for retrofitted Cessnas, which is what Harbour Air’s fleet will be, the range is up to about 100 miles. For concept and experimental aircraft being designed with electric power in mind, the range could be up to five times that. Ganzarski says the cost to run even the retrofitted electric fleet could be as much as 50 percent less than conventional fuel aircraft.
Some people have wondered why the range for these flights is so consistently short. Airplanes in particular are capable of gliding great distances, but very small aircraft like the Grand Caravan just have a lot less leeway because of their lower overall speed and altitude.
“A rule of thumb for Cessna 152s and 172s is 1.5 nautical miles per 1,000 feet of altitude above ground level,” the FAA explains. The much larger 208 weighs more than three times as much, but that weight only means the glide distance will be covered faster.
For short passenger flights on the electric 208, at a cruising altitude of perhaps 4,000 to 5,000 feet, the glide distance would only be about 5 or 6 miles—hardly enough to make a difference in the big scheme of flight time or distance. But aerospace engineers could design electric-native planes with gliding potential in mind. For now, 30 minutes of continuous flight is enough to cover about 100 miles at the 208’s cruising speed of 214 miles per hour.
“The world’s largest electric aircraft just finished her first flight,” Ganzarski said during the broadcast. In the background, people grabbed phones to video the final approach. “You just witnessed history,” Ganzarski concluded.
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