“Today you witnessed everything coming together,” said Eviation Aircraft president and CEO Gregory Davis, reflecting on the successful first flight of Alice, Eviation’s prototype electric aircraft.
I and a handful of other media types were privileged to be on site to document the event, which took place in the early morning hours of September 27 at Moses Lake, Washington, at Grant County International Airport (KMWH).
The day started early, with the invited media told to muster at the passenger terminal by 5:15 a.m. Media badges were issued, and we were loaded onto vans to be taken out to the airport’s segmented observation circle. From there we would have a good view of Runway 22 and Alice climbing into the sky.
With sunrise arriving at 6:51 a.m., more than an hour later the only illumination was from the lighted windsock and the screens of smartphones as the media and public relations team from Eviation checked in with their “Mother Ships.”
The sky above us was inky blue and despite the light pollution from the airport building and the smoke in the atmosphere from recent forest fires, you could still make out some stars. The buildings across from the viewing area and to the north had their lights on as well, and they gleamed white like pearls against the darkness. At the far end of the runway was Eviation Aviation’s hangar. Alice, the star of the day, would soon emerge.
“Why so early?” someone asked, shivering a little in the pre-dawn cold.
“Because of the winds,” someone else supplied. For the purpose of the first test flight, the winds needed to be light. This is why early in the morning is best for test flights. First flights are done to check control authority, pitch control, and basic handling. It’s best to have calm weather for that.
As if on cue, the darkness began to fade—a pink hue appeared in the east and a scattered cloud layer manifested as purple patches in the sky.
As 7 a.m. approached, a Cessna 206 that was designated as the chase aircraft took off from Runway 22. This was greeted with exclamations of excitement from the media—the chase airplane is going up, that has to mean that Alice is too.
I don’t think anyone was breathing. I mean, we were all holding our breath as Alice, piloted by test pilot Steve Crane, taxied over to the run-up area. We heard the two magnix650 electric propulsion units powered by Tesla-style batteries rev up.
There was a moment of confusion when Alice taxied back across the runway and appeared to be returning to the hangar.
“Are they not going?” someone asked. Was there a problem?
“They are doing final checks,” replied one of our hostesses.
‘Here She Comes’
At approximately 7:10 a.m. Eviation Aircraft’s Alice, the largest fully electric aircraft of its kind thus far, climbed into the peach-colored sky. There was a collective holding of breath until the aircraft had moved past the media viewing area and ran out of usable runway as it climbed—then the cheers began.
According to Eviation, Alice flew for approximately 8 minutes. (My stopwatch read 9 minutes, 3 seconds. I started the timer as the power came up—but we won’t quibble.) The aircraft’s landing gear was kept down, which is normal procedure on first flights, as it flew at an altitude of 3,500 feet. Alice and the Cessna 206 chase airplane made two wide orbits around the airport.
One of the things I noticed the most was that the engine of the Cessna 206—a single engine aircraft—was louder than Alice’s pair of powerplants. The engines on Alice make sort of a buzzing noise. One of the selling points of electric aircraft, in addition to the low-carbon emissions, is that they are quieter than their gas-powered turbine counterparts.
Alice features a rear-mounted prop design with a T-tail. The airframe is composite. It has to be light because the battery cells are heavy—that’s been one of the challenges of battery-powered flight: reaching a balance between battery power and aircraft weight.
Following her aerial debut, there was applause as Alice taxied to the ramp where a crowd made up of Eviation Aircraft employees, media, family members, and local aviation officials waited to greet the aircraft and its test pilot. After a few minutes, Steve Crane emerged from the aircraft grinning triumphantly. The test flight, albeit brief, was a success.
Davis was beaming as he told FLYING, “What you have just witnessed is aviation history. You witnessed the first of a new type of propulsion system, a new integrated system. This is the biggest change in aviation propulsion technology since when we went from the Super Constellation to the Boeing 707. This is like going from pistons to turbines and making that change. Two magniX motors are driving Alice and got her into the air for the first time—and that is definitely [a sight] to behold.”
It was an emotional moment for the company. There were tears, shouts, lots of hugging and high fives and smiles all around. Many of them have devoted a significant amount of their lives to the airplane.
“That airplane is my girlfriend,” joked Eviation Aircraft operations manager Lance Bakki. “She’s all I have been thinking about for the last two years and three days.”
The prototype aircraft was introduced at the Paris Airshow in 2019; however, the pandemic slowed its development a bit.
How It Began
The company is based at Arlington Municipal Airport (KAWO) in Arlington, Washington, north of Seattle. According to Davis, they have been using facilities at both Arlington and Moses Lake to get Alice ready to fly.
“Our headquarters is still in Arlington, Washington,” he said, noting that last winter the company performed taxi tests there before bringing Alice to Moses Lake, which has historically been used as a flight test facility. “We moved the aircraft and support crews over in May. We definitely have a footprint in both spots; right now, our design and development activity are continuing from Arlington. Today, you witnessed everything coming together. This aircraft you see here has demonstrated that it works. Everything functioning together, the fly by wire system, the structure, the electric propulsion units, the batteries and everything else that connects them.”
What Happens Next
According to Davis, the brief flight has generated “thousands of terabytes of data” coming from “thousands of parameters that were being monitored.”
“It is going to take us several weeks to go through that data,” he explained.
What they learn from the process will lead to a different, more commercially viable aircraft. “It’s about taking the design, understanding what we know and learning how the system works and then building a plane that is going to be right for our customers.”
Eviation Aircraft notes that Alice produces no carbon emissions from its direct operation, significantly reduces noise, and costs a fraction to operate per flight hour compared to light jets or high-end turboprops. The company predicts the design could transform the regional travel market, as Alice is targeted at commuter and cargo markets, and will typically operate flights ranging from 150 to 250 sm.
Delivery is still a few years out but already orders are being placed. According to Eviation, Cape Air and Global Crossing Airlines, both U.S.-based regional airlines, have placed orders for 75 and 50 Alice aircraft respectively. DHL Express is Eviation’s first cargo customer, with an order for 12 Alice eCargo airplanes. With this engagement, DHL aims to establish the first electric express network, leading the way for a new era of zero-emissions air freight.
“The first flight of Alice represents a transformational milestone for the aviation industry,” said Cape Air founder and board chairman Dan Wolf. “We currently fly more than 400 regional flights per day, connecting more than 30 cities across the United States and Caribbean. Alice can easily cover 80 percent of our flight operations, bringing sustainable, emission-free travel to the communities we serve.”
“The first flight of Alice confirms our belief that the era of sustainable aviation is here,” added Geoff Kehr, senior vice president, global air fleet management, for DHL Express. “With our order of 12 Alice e-cargo planes, we are investing towards our overall goal of zero-emissions logistics. DHL is the industry leader by introducing new and more sustainable cargo aircraft types to the global market. Alice is the true game-changer by enabling long distance air transport for the first time with zero emissions. This historic flight marks a significant milestone on our journey to ultimately achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.”
Alice by the Numbers
The all-electric Alice aircraft features:
● Max operating speed: 260 knots
● Max useful load: 2,500 lb. for passenger version and 2,600 lb. for eCargo version
The commuter version of Alice offers the widest cabin in its class with a height of 4 ft. 11 in. (1.8 meters) and width of 6 ft. 4 in. (1.93 meters).
● Aircraft length: 57 ft. 1 in.
● Aircraft wingspan: 63 ft.
● Aircraft height: 12 ft. 7 in.
Alice is available in three variants: a nine-passenger commuter, an elegant and sophisticated six-passenger executive cabin, and an eCargo version. All configurations support two crew members. The executive cabin and eCargo variations are identical to the commuter configuration, except for the interior.
Inside the Engine
Alice is powered by two magnix650 electric propulsion units from magniX, the only flight-proven electric propulsion systems at this scale. Other key suppliers include AVL (battery support), GKN (wings), Honeywell (advanced fly-by-wire system, flight controls and avionics), Multiplast (fuselage), Parker Aerospace (six technology systems), and Potez (doors).
Alice’s advanced battery system is highly efficient and endlessly upgradeable enabling range improvements as battery technology evolves. The aircraft also incorporates a fly-by-wire cockpit, providing greater reliability and systems redundancy.
About the Name
The name Alice was inspired by the Lewis Carroll fantasy novel, serving as a homage to Alice in Wonderland.