IT WAS cold on the morning of December 10, 2019, in Richmond, British Columbia, when 63-year-old pilot Greg McDougall took off in his 63-year-old floatplane and flew into history. As far as flights go, it was wholly unremarkable. McDougall, the CEO and founder of Harbour Air—the world’s largest seaplane airliner, based in Vancouver, Washington—was in the air for about 10 minutes. And the plane, a De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, was constructed two years before Sputnik was shot into space. Its new paint job, however, hinted at its exceptionalness: bright blue and green, with technical-looking graphics on its nose.
“This is what the motor, batteries, and electrical wires look like,” McDougall explained before the flight, pointing at the schematic, which depicts a 750-horsepower (or 560 kW) electric propulsion system.