Saturday, December 19, 2020

Developer of electric motors for aircraft plans Redmond HQ and engineering shop

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A startup company developing motors for all-electric aircraft will set up a new headquarters and engineering facility in Redmond.

MagniX chief executive Roei Ganzarski said in an interview he expects to have about 15 people in Redmond by year-end, and twice that number next year.

Employees will include electrical, mechanical and aerospace engineers as well as hires on the business side. Newly appointed CEO Ganzarski is a former Boeing executive who left the jetmaker six years ago and then led an aviation software company. He has set up a temporary office and said he’s closing in on a permanent location in Redmond.

The goal is to develop small, light electric motors that can be slotted into existing propeller planes to replace piston engines, and also can power future designs for electric planes.

Ganzarski said the venture is funded by private investors who believe that electric power will bring a “step change in innovation” to the aviation world.

Formed in Australia nine years ago, the company has a facility there with about 30 engineers who have done the initial research and development and will remain part of the company.

“We are past the phase of initial research and development,” said Ganzarski. “We have motors running in our test cells in Australia.”

Ganzarski said the company decided to set up a U.S. headquarters and engineering site once aviation was identified as the likely best application of the technology. It became clear that “we couldn’t become number 1 in aerospace from Australia.”

The Pacific Northwest was chosen because aerospace is such a major industry here, and for its geographic position between Australia to the west and the U.S. and Europe to the east.

An electric airplane depends on the availability of compact, power-dense batteries as a power source instead of jet fuel. MagniX’s motor will be the propulsion system that takes the electrical power from the batteries and uses it to turn the propellers.

Ganzarski said MagniX is working with five different battery makers.

Beyond the technical hurdles to be overcome, regulators will have to sign off on such an innovation. Whether designing such a system to slot into a Cessna or into an all-new airplane, it will have to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Ganzarski said that while all-electric Boeing-sized airliners are “a generation away,” he envisages smaller electric aircraft powered by his motors certified and ready to enter service in 2020.

The 350-horsepower electric motors MagniX has developed so far are cylindrical motors roughly 17 inches in diameter and 11 inches long, weighing 117 pounds and turning at 2,500 rpm.

The technology is not new, but Ganzarski said his engineers created “a design that allows much improved use of the magnets and coils in the motor” as well as a unique cooling system.

Ganzarski said the next phase of development is a more powerful motor, weighing about 200 pounds and producing 750 horsepower, turning at 1,900 rpm.

That turning speed is low relative to most comparable electric motors and is an appropriate speed for turning the propellers without the need for a gearbox on aircraft carrying 10 to 20 passengers, such as a Cessna Caravan, a de Havilland Canada Twin Otter or a Beechcraft King Air.

Ganzarski said his first seven hires for Redmond are coming from jobs at SpaceX, Airbus, Boeing, Tesla, Embraer, Bombardier and GE Aviation.

Still, for all its startup energy, MagniX will have to catch up with the giant Siemens of Germany.

Siemens has already produced electric motors powering two very small aircraft already flying: the two-seater Sun Flyer, made by Bye Aerospace in Denver, and the two-to-four-seater Pipistrel made in Slovenia.

The German conglomerate has also signed up to deliver the electric propulsion system for a prototype gas/electric hybrid airplane, called E-Fan X, being developed by Airbus to seat 50 to 100 passengers.

Ganzarski said MagniX is talking to various potential customers.

That doesn’t include Zunum, in nearby Kirkland, which is developing hybrid gas/electric commuter planes and will develop its own hybrid propulsion system. But Israeli startup Eviation, which is developing small all-electric planes, is a possible sales target for MagniX.

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