The world’s largest all-electric aircraft is about to take to the skies for the first time in a test flight over Washington state in the US on Thursday.
The Cessna Caravan, retrofitted with an electric engine by magniX, is expected to fly for 20-30 minutes.
Unlike the experimental aircraft that have dominated electric flight so far, the Cessna 208 Caravan that will carry magniX‘s motor over Moses Lake, Washington, is a nine-passenger widely-used commuter airliner that’s been in production since 1982.
By retrofitting an existing small plane, magniX‘s goal is to show that commercial electric flight is possible now, even if a greener flying future with 100-passenger aircraft is still decades away.
The plane can carry nine passengers but a test pilot will undertake the inaugural flight alone, cruising at a speed of 99 knots. The engine maker hopes the aircraft could enter commercial service by the end of 2021 and have a range of 160 kilometres.
The aviation industry is heavily regulated to ensure safety but magniX hopes that by retrofitting an existing plane the certification process can be accelerated. A smaller seaplane powered by a magniX engine completed a short flight in December.
Roei Ganzarski, the CEO of magniX, said current aeroplanes were both expensive to operate and very polluting.
“Electric airplanes will be 40-70 per cent lower cost to operate per flight hour,” he said. “That means operators will be able to fly more planes into smaller airports, meaning a shorter and door-to-door experience, with no harmful CO2 emissions.”
Ganzarski said the company believed all flights of less than 1,600 kilometres would be completely electric in 15 years’ time. But, he said, “Battery [energy] density is not where we would like to see it. While it is good for ultra-short flights of 100 miles on a retrofit aircraft and over 500 miles on a new design aircraft like the Alice, there is plenty of untapped potential in batteries. Now that the first commercial aircraft has flown all-electric, battery companies are starting to work more diligently on aerospace-ready battery solutions.”
The Cessna Caravan being used by magniX is one of the world’s most-used medium-range planes, with more than 2,600 operating in 100 countries. The first flight is set for 8am Pacific time (3pm GMT) on Thursday, weather permitting.