Former ECE Postdoc helps electric plane fly

Dr. Siyu Leng credits his time with the U of A's Future Engery Systems project for his enthusiasm and skill

Robyn Braun - 24 January 2020

An all-electric DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver float plane took flight above B.C.'s Fraser River on December 10th. The flight lasted for three minutes and could not have happened without the contribution and dedication of one of ECE's former postdoctoral fellows. Dr. Siyu Leng was a postdoctoral feelow under the supervision of Dr. Salmon from September 2013 to October 2014 and again from April 2018 to August 2018. During his time at the U of A he became passionate about power electronics.

"I was involved in the Future Energy Systems project," says Leng. "And that's when I discovered the excitement of experimenting with power electronics."

In the spring of 2019, Leng was approached by MagniX, an Australian manufacturer of electric motors for aircraft to join their team and design control software for their electric airplane.

"I couldn't believe it," says Leng. "The timeframe was so short and the task so tremendous. But I decided to take a leap of faith and join them."

At MagniX, Leng says, he's part of a team and everyone has a 'get it done' attitude. The test flight by Harbour Air was their reward for countless hours of devotion.

"Even though the flight was short, it was such an achievement and we were so proud," says Leng.

Next year, Magnix will work with Eviation to produce the all-electric airplane named Alice, which will be built from 95% composite materials and powered by three motors from MagniX. Another company, AeroTEC, plans to test the MagniX 750 horsepower propulsion system in a Cessna Caravan 208B.

"I'm so excited about the future of electric aviation," says Leng. "It's exciting to work towards bringing down both operating costs and CO2 emissions. Without my experience at the U of A, I could not be in the position I am today."

You can read more about the test flight on CBC, BBC and The Verge.