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Launched in 2006, Skye Avionics has extensive avionics and electrical rewiring installation experience. But a recent project has them feeling the exhilaration of embarking on an unprecedented venture: a new engine for the iconic De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver.
In partnership with RED Aircraft GmbH of Germany, Sealand Aviation has contracted Skye’s team to look after the electrical and avionics aspects of the project.
The single-engine, high-wing, propeller-driven DHC-2 Beaver was initially manufactured back in the 1940s and 50s. According to Sealand, the Beaver has proven itself to be almost irreplaceable, as the company referred to it as “the best bush plane ever built.”
The specific Beaver that Sealand has chosen to modify (C-GSBA) will soon be the “first in the world” to encompass the power of a 550-horsepower, all-aluminum, 12-cylinder compression ignition (diesel) engine — the RED A03 — described as the most powerful aircraft piston engine in production. This engine currently has European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) type certification.
Sealand has been “looking after” DHC Beavers for over four decades and holds numerous supplemental type certificates (STC) on the aircraft, including the STC for the cabin extension kit and Alaska door. The Campbell River, British Columbia-based company, in a 50/50 partnership with RED Aircraft, assembled a team to develop the engine modification.
The RED A03 engine operates on jet fuel, has a 50 percent lower fuel burn than a comparable turbine engine, and has a two-cylinder-bank redundancy concept for higher safety.
Bill Alder, president of Sealand Aviation, said, “A project like this has always been on our radar. The Pratt & Whitney R-985 [Wasp Junior] has been an incredible engine, but it was designed in the ‘30s, and it is time for a replacement. The Beaver is an unbelievable aircraft. How many 70-year-old trucks do you know of that still work every day?
“None of this happened overnight,” continued Alder. “Twenty years ago, Sealand designed a V8 engine for the Beaver, but we shelved the project. Ten years ago, we were working with Trace Engines in Texas. The Trace project involved installing a 600-hp V8 in the Beaver. Trace did eventually get an STC for the installation in the Beaver, but never did finish the project before financially tough times ended it.”
Discussions between Sealand and RED Aircraft about the latest Beaver engine project “started quite a few years ago, while we were still working on the Trace engine installation,” said Alder. “As with any project of this caliber, money was an issue. However, borrowing money and the partnership with RED Aircraft propelled the project forward.”
However, the National Research Council Canada was “not supportive at all,” according to Alder. “They wanted us to go completely electric right away.”
Sealand expects that eventually, the infrastructure will be in place to support electric bush planes. But in the interim, “this engine is the answer since it will considerably reduce the environmental footprint.”
Ryan Evans, president of Skye Avionics, said he was elated when Sealand and RED chose Skye to help with the installation. Sharing the highs and lows of this once-in-a-lifetime experience, Evans admitted the most prominent obstacles were in redesigning the electrical system.
“Another obstacle we faced was in the airframe,” he added. “[We’re] taking an airframe and an airplane from the 1940s, and then we’re taking an engine that’s FADEC-controlled and adding four lithium batteries, then combining all of this. So, it’s a challenge trying to make all of this work.”
As an approved organization for the manufacture and certification of aeronautical products, Skye has manufactured wiring harnesses and components for installation by OEMs.
It took Skye seven days to redesign and rework the electrical system for the Beaver project. “We are designing the electrical distribution center and every aspect of the electrical system,” explained Evans. “We will be able to manufacture the harnesses for the installation so that when someone wants to complete the modification, it is plug and play.”
Skye also designed the caution panel. “A number of caution lights are required for the FADEC system. Instead of using typical warning lights that tend to be large, Skye Avionics designed and is manufacturing an LED caution panel,” said Evans.
With over 20 years of avionics experience, Evans serves as the electrical project manager. He strategically chose his team consisting of a project lead, Josh Roy, who installed the electrical and avionics systems; Brendan Locken, who is in charge of avionics installation, programming, and testing; and Caitlyn Evans, who is in charge of drafting the electrical and avionics systems.
Along with the caution panel for the Beaver, Skye has its own line of ICS cables as well as video splitter, portable radio interface, and Bluetooth interface technologies.
The DHC-2 modification is nearly complete. The engine’s first run took place in early February, and the first flight is to follow soon pending a flight permit from Transport Canada. Numerous flight tests with wheels, floats, and skis are to come, as well as hot and cold testing. STC approval is expected by the end of 2022.
Sealand plans to preview the aircraft at the Great Alaska Aviation Gathering in May 2022.