Moses lake: After a lengthy wait, a sleek all-electric Plane prototype buzzed like a hornet at the end of the runway at 7:10 a.m. Tuesday. It then accelerated off and ascended into the sky above Central Washington.
- The Drive
- Prototype Model
- Competition in emission-free aviation
- Securing the battery system
The aircraft made two wide circuits around the airfield before climbing to a height of 3,500 feet. As the plane flew straight overhead, the propellers in the back could be heard buzzing and whirring by those on the ground.
The aeroplane landed safely in about 8 minutes. There were a few more audible buzzes when the pilot started the engines as they landed.
Take-off 7:10 a.m.— Dominic Gates (@dominicgates) September 27, 2022
Alice is flying pic.twitter.com/V7sIpPGfpB
The aircraft, which can carry nine passengers and one or two pilots, was designed and built by the Arlington-based company Eviation to demonstrate the practicality of an electric commercial commuter aircraft that travels a few hundred miles between cities at a height of roughly 15,000 feet.
It is powered by a mere 21,500 microscopic Tesla-style battery cells, which, at a little over 4 tonnes, make up more than half of the carbon composite airframe’s weight.
They power electric motors that Everett-based MagniX designed and made.
Due to cutting-edge technology, this area is at the forefront of attempts to usher in a zero-emission, sustainable age in aviation. Uncertainty abounds as to whether it can provide the kind of financial gains required to replace existing air travel.
Greg Davis, the CEO of Aviation, acknowledged that the prototype that took off on Tuesday is not the one the business will ultimately build in an interview at Moses Lake on the eve of the inaugural flight.
He claimed that for Eviation’s planes to be profitable, unfulfilled battery technology advancements are necessary.
Are the batteries on the prototype aircraft able to provide enough power to propel the certification plane? The answer is unquestionably not, said Davis.
In a February interview, Davis stated that he was devoting all of his efforts to getting the plane approved for passenger service in 2024. On Monday, he predicted, it would be five years away.
However, on Tuesday morning, these ominous details were briefly pushed aside to celebrate an important turning point in the construction of this electric aircraft, affectionately dubbed Alice.
“We’ve just made aviation history,” declared Davis. This entails modifying how we fly. It entails creating enduring relationships with members of the community.
Davis went on to say that a new age in aviation was beginning. This is the first major development in aeroplane propulsion technology since the Super Constellation, the 707, the piston engine, the jet engine, and the electric motor.
Aviation test pilot Steve Crane, 55, said Alice “flew and behaved superbly” after exiting the cockpit.
He claimed that the engines were silent inside the cockpit.
“I am aware of everything else. the hydraulic pumps. The propellers are audible. I can’t hear the engines, though. They’re quiet,” Crane observed.
The purpose of the brief test flight, according to Crane, was to evaluate the aircraft’s stability, pitch authority, and ability to land safely.
He continued, “You take baby steps, one step at a time.
The name of the aircraft, which engineers in Israel and Washington state created, was influenced by Lewis Carroll’s fantastical tales of Alice’s travels in Wonderland.
In December 2019, a modified DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver seaplane flown by Harbour Air out of Vancouver, British Columbia, completed the first all-electric flight in North America. It was powered by MagniX motors as well. That aircraft is undergoing testing and is not yet authorized to transport people.
The possibility exists that Alice, if permitted by the Federal Aviation Administration to transport people, will be the first brand-new, all-electric commercial aircraft.
That goal, though, is further distant than Tuesday’s flight might imply.
Beginning with Boeing’s first flight, the certification procedure is initiated. As soon as possible, Boeing starts testing and gathering information to submit to the FAA as evidence that its aircraft is airworthy.
On this airplane carrying Alice, such is not the case.
According to Davis, the next step is to build an airplane for the market. Although this is a remarkable accomplishment, it is the first step toward our ultimate goal.
He added that we still have a few weeks to review and analyze this flight’s data. Terabytes of data have been downloaded. Then, after making any necessary adjustments to the aircraft, we’ll re-fly it to see how it performs.
Aviation eventually intends to produce three models, all of which will differ significantly from the prototype in terms of design: a nine-passenger configuration, a cargo version, and an executive model with a more opulent cabin.
In contrast to the prototype, the production vehicles will have pressurized cabins and completely new batteries.
According to Davis, they will also have a modified arrangement of the wings’ adjustable flaps.
Additionally, the production aircraft will feature a third battery pack in addition to the prototype’s two under the passenger cabin in the fuselage belly.
Only after a production model is ready to fly may flight tests required for FAA certification started.
Davis estimates that it will take another three years of development before flight tests start, followed by another two years for certification, delaying entrance into service until at least 2027.
It has been a long road to an exciting objective for the Aviation engineering and manufacturing team.
Competition in emission-free aviation
There isn’t a feasible technique to create a huge, battery-powered airplane the size of a Boeing jet. For flying, the necessary batteries would be prohibitively hefty.
For micro-aviation, Alice stands for a glimpse of the future.
The Velis Electro, a tiny two-seater made in Slovenia by Pipistrel, is the only certified all-electric aircraft in the fight to decarbonize air travel.
The manufacturer of Cessna, Beechcraft, and other small aircraft, Textron, based in Wichita, Kansas, purchased that business in April.
The Alice commuter plane, which operates on brief intercity flights, is a third option for the future of electric aircraft and has attracted several rivals.
One of the most promising is the P-Volt, an all-electric variant of Italian aircraft manufacturer Tecnam’s current nine-passenger, piston-powered P2012 type, which aspires for the first flight by 2026.
Eviation’s all-electric technology has surpassed similar rivalry in achieving its first flight, even though it was only a prototype.
According to Davis, the following phase entails getting it produced, certified, sourced, integrated into the supply chain, and put in place. “It’s the grit you need to prove that the product will always be safe and dependable to be an aircraft maker.
Securing the battery system
The primary technological issue and Alice’s greatest potential weakness is the integration of the batteries with the aircraft systems.
The batteries power the propeller-turning electric motors created by the Everett, Washington-based business MagniX.
Lithium-ion batteries, however, have a high failure rate, as Boeing discovered with their 787 Dreamliner.
In 2013, the main battery on the 787 caught fire in flight while it was only running some electrical systems and not providing flight power, forcing the fleet to be grounded for over four months.
Tesla automobiles have frequently caught fire as a result of battery issues.
The true threat comes from a single battery cell releasing heat and fumes that spread harm to nearby cells, a condition known as a “thermal runaway.”
It is crucial to design a battery pack to stop that.
“We keep an eye on every cell separately. The voltage of the cell is monitored by a sensor, said Davis. “The computer will be able to recognize when a cell is acting inappropriately. After that, it can deactivate that sub-pack. It will be told to cease by it.
If a cell is escaping, it should presumably be in one subpackets. However, Alice features two “burst discs” on either side of the bottom of the fuselage, through which hot gases will leak to the exterior and away from the passenger compartment if such a cell failure is not contained.
Davis remarked that you would have plenty of time to land and get off the plane.
He also explained that there is structural reinforcement and a crumple zone to safeguard the battery cells in the event of a crash landing onto the area of the airplane’s belly where the battery packs are housed.
All of this advanced design work must now be changed to incorporate potential new, completely different batteries with greater energy capacity.
According to Davis, in five years, we should have some really advantageous battery technologies at our disposal.
The FAA will have to thoroughly evaluate and approve all the safety features Eviation has wrapped around the new batteries whenever they are incorporated before Alice can be certified.
There is currently no international consensus on the testing that makers of electric aircraft will need to conduct to demonstrate the safety of their battery systems. This presents another barrier to certification.
When such a regulatory accord occurs is unknown.
The costs of development will likely total several billion dollars over the next at least five years.
Aviation and electric motor manufacturer MagniX are members of the Clermont Group, a group of investment firms backed by billionaire Richard Chandler, a New Zealander who now resides in Singapore.
Chandler expressed his “great excitement” at the inaugural flight at Moses Lake on Tuesday and was unfazed about the upcoming financial demands over the following five years.
After the flight, Chandler remarked in an interview, “There is tremendous commitment on behalf of all the stockholders to see the programme through to completion and entry into service.”
We’ll pass technological and financial checkpoints along the way, he said. Watching that occur today was a significant turning point.
In the next five years, I want to be able to offer a carbon-free alternative to regional transportation. Therefore I’m incredibly optimistic about the future of aviation,” he said. It’s a ground-breaking product,
Representative Rick Larsen (D-Everett), a participant at the ceremony who represents Arlington and serves as chair of the U.S. House Aviation Subcommittee, referred to Alice’s inaugural flight as “historic.”
He stated that to facilitate “all this innovation and technology that is coming into aerospace,” Congress and the FAA must get ready to enact new laws and regulations right away.
Davis compared Tuesday’s inaugural flight to “Alan Shepard, going into space” to illustrate where the Alice program is currently and what lies ahead.
The entire space program is the mission that lies ahead of us. The Apollo mission, he continued.
In a 15-minute up-and-down ride, Shepard became the first American to travel to space in 1961. The Apollo astronauts set foot on the moon in 1969. In just eight years, there had been astounding progress.
Aviation currently aspires to complete its Alice project in five years.
Davis admitted that the time frame was more constrained.