MOSES LAKE, Washington — After months of delay, a sleek all-electric airplane prototype buzzed like a hornet at the end of the runway, then sped off and lifted into the sky above Central Washington on its first flight at 7:10 a.m. Tuesday.
The plane took two wide turns around the airfield, climbing to 3,500 feet. As it passed directly overhead, people on the ground heard a whirring buzz, a fluttering of air from the propellers at the rear of the fuselage.
The plane landed safely just 8 minutes later. As it taxied in to the terminal, it gave a couple more loud buzzes when the pilot revved the motors.
The plane, built to carry nine passengers and one or two pilots, was designed and built by Arlington, Washington-based startup Eviation to demonstrate the potential for an electric commercial commuter aircraft flying a few hundred miles between cities at an altitude of around 15,000 feet.
It's powered by just over 21,500 small Tesla-style battery cells that, at just over 4 tons, make up fully half the weight of the carbon composite airframe.
They drive electric motors designed and built by MagniX in Everett, Washington.
The technology is pioneering and puts this region at the forefront of efforts to develop a zero-emission, sustainable era in aviation. But whether it can deliver the economic returns necessary to become a commonplace mode of air travel remains highly uncertain.
In an interview in Moses Lake on the eve of first flight, Eviation CEO Greg Davis conceded that the prototype that took off Tuesday is not the design the company will build later.
He said Eviation needs still-to-be-developed advances in battery technology to make its planes commercially viable.
"Are the batteries on the prototype aircraft capable of propelling the certification aircraft, capable of providing sufficient energy? The answer is no, absolutely not," Davis said.