Magpie's electric airplane towing concept could pave the way for longer zero-emission flights

Magpie’s electric airplane towing concept could pave the way for longer zero-emission flights

Magpie Aviation, a California-based startup, has introduced a new approach to electric airplanes, announcing the concept on Monday. With current battery technology posing limitations on the practicality of zero-emission aircraft, the startup has proposed a solution that involves towing planes, extending their range by hundreds of miles. This towing approach is a new concept in green transportation, with military use of aerial tows going back to World War II. Magpie’s concept involves using one or more electric aircraft to tow a passenger or cargo aircraft using a long cable. While the towed plane would have enough battery power for takeoff, landing, and flying to alternate airports, it would not have enough to fly the full distance on its own.



The lead plane would take on the bulk of the traction, and when its battery is depleted, it could hand off towing duties to another electric towing aircraft to extend the range of the rear plane. Although still a regional solution impractical for cross-country or international flights, the concept could allow for a trip from San Francisco to Seattle, far beyond the sub-regional distances battery-powered passenger flights can travel on their own. The company has conducted successful small-scale tests using a synthetic fiber rope around 330 ft. long and envisions a later commercial version using nearly mile-long cables.

Magpie plans to scale up its testing gradually and believes it could be implemented commercially by 2030. The startup expects advances in battery tech to allow it to tow single-aisle airliners eventually. The towing concept is mainly targeting electric planes, but Magpie suggests it could also work with hybrid, hydrogen, and standard aircraft in low-power modes. Additionally, the company is working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with an eye toward certification. Magpie’s innovative approach could potentially enable longer zero-emission flights, and if successful, it may revolutionize the future of sustainable aviation.

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