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A “Plug-In” Beaver

By Mike Davenport, EAA 89102, Langley, British Columbia

November 2021 – How do you flight test a new idea? One line of thought says you use as many existing parts as possible, thus removing as many variables as possible. In the case of Harbour Air’s electric airplane, why not start with what you know best — the mainstay of your fleet, the DHC-2 Beaver. Firewall aft, there is nothing new. It’s been the same since 1956 so there are no surprises there. Firewall forward, now that is different. You now have a motor, not an engine. 750 electrical horses de-rated to 450 for redundancy. It should be really smooth too because there is no up and down of pistons to create vibration, just a nice, round electric motor to hum along. The motor weighs just 297 pounds compared to the 690 pounds of the Pratt and Whitney R-985 that it replaces, leaving almost 400 pounds for batteries and other related bits and pieces. You will need those batteries though because an extension cord would be a bit cumbersome.

Think electric cars, drive it during the day and plug it in overnight. Well, not quite. This Beaver has an endurance of about one hour. While more than enough to fly from Vancouver to Victoria, maintaining a regular flight schedule would be hard to meet as at least an hour would be required to recharge for the trip home. More than 2,000 pounds of standard lead acid batteries were used for the test flight, thus reducing the useful load to that of just the pilot. Smaller, lighter lithium batteries currently under development will be required to make this a practical alternative to the Pratt & Whitney.

A 'Plug-In' Beaver
Electric Beaver – photo credit Jason Pineau

Harbour Air, formed in 1982, today provides service to British Columbia’s coastal communities with 80-plus pilots and a fleet of some 40 float-equipped aircraft: Beavers, Otters, Twin Otters, and Cessna Grand Caravans. Part of their 300 daily flights are local area tours around Vancouver and Victoria. These 20-minute sightseeing flights will lend themselves to the new electric-powered Beaver and will provide the significant reduction in carbon emissions that are so desired by environmentalists worldwide. The most optimistic guess for an electric Beaver’s entry into service would be 2022. It all depends on the availability of the batteries. Everything else works.

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