The development of electric aircraft is a hot topic in the industry at the moment. One of the more advanced projects is Eviation’s Alice aircraft. It is getting close to first flight and Rob Edgcumbe made a visit to Arlington Municipal Airport for GAR to check out whether testing progress was being made.
It is the big topic in aviation at the moment – how to reduce the carbon footprint of flight. Renewable fuels and hydrogen are the focus for larger aircraft but there is a lot of interest in whether electric powered aircraft will be viable. There are a large number of electric VTOL aircraft either proposed or already in development. Whether any of them are really going to be a viable product or not remains to be seen but plenty of projects will undoubtedly fail. Meanwhile, electric versions of more conventional aircraft are also in development and these have a market that is known to exist. It is just a question of whether electric power will be an effective form of propulsion. Eviation has been developing their Alice project for this market.
The Alice has been through some evolution during the development project. It originally had three props – one on each wing tip and one at the rear. However, this design was ultimately not utilised and the design has morphed in to a more conventional configuration with two rear fuselage mounted engines. Even so, the fuselage is far from conventional with a flattened oval cross section. The engines are Magnix power units. Magnix has provided power for a number of conversions of existing designs, as well as new projects. Until recently it shared leadership, with Magnix’s CEO also being Chairman of Eviation.
Eviation undertook low-speed taxi trials in December with their goal being a first flight before the end of 2021. They then arranged for closure of the runway at their Arlington facility in late December to undertake high-speed taxi trials. Sadly, weather conditions were poor and the trials were cancelled. High-speed taxi tests always see the possibility that the aircraft will get airborne so you need good conditions for the trials to cover that eventuality.
The weather in the Pacific Northwest deteriorated after this and there was heavy rain and stormy conditions for a couple of weeks. The idea of flying before the end of the year was therefore out of the question. With the first day with a decent forecast in early January, Eviation was ready to have another go. A NOTAM was issued and the runway closed mid-afternoon. With sunset at around 4:30pm, this gave about 90 minutes in which to work. The aircraft was staged out on a taxiway early in the afternoon and the crew were preparing for the trials but, unfortunately, not everything was going to plan.
Flight test is not a simple business. When everything is new, there are plenty of opportunities for things to not work as planned and this day was no exception. There were issues with the emergency brake that they were struggling to understand, with conflicting information coming from the telemetry. They did get one of the engines running but, when they tried to start the second engine, they were unable to do so and it triggered a shutdown of the first engine.
All of this was consuming time and, with the days being so short, the light was disappearing fast. It wasn’t too long before it was time to call it a day. The airfield trucks were heading out to remove the large signs erected at the end of each runway to allow normal operations to resume.
The aircraft was towed back to the hangar as darkness was falling. It provided a good opportunity to see the unusual shape of the airframe as it was brought back to one of Eviation’s hangars. There will be a lot of troubleshooting following the day’s tests. The forecast for the coming days is not great so we shall see whether the team is able or ready to go again later in the week.
Hopefully I’ll be there to report on progress.