Airbus has hailed a new chapter in aviation history by claiming the first electric flight across the Channel, brushing off a similar feat by another French pilot a day earlier.
Nearly 106 years after French pilot Louis Bleriot became the first to fly across the Channel, test pilot Didier Esteyne took off from Lydd Airport on the south-eastern English coast in Airbus’s battery-powered E-fan aircraft at 10:15am on Friday.
In a bright, cloudless sky he flew 74 kilometres to the Calais Dunkerque airport in 38 minutes at an altitude of 1,000 metres.
“Building and flying a plane like this [is] a child’s dream,” said Mr Esteyne, who also helped design the plane.
However French pilot Hugues Duval also claimed the first electric flight across the Channel, having made the journey from Calais to Dover and back again without landing in a twin engine Cri-Cri E-Cristaline on Thursday.
Airbus pointed out that the Cri-Cri did not take off on its own, but was detached from a larger aircraft over the ocean.
Mr Duval said he had not asked for official permission to take off in his aircraft as he was afraid it would be refused.
“I could have done the same journey as the E-Fan but I would probably have not managed with the administrative side,” he told news agency AFP.
“It is David against Goliath. Big companies have a tendency to crush you,” he said, adding that people would tend to favour the version of the European aviation giant, criticising an attitude from Airbus, which he said was “not always very fair play”.
An Airbus spokesman said the group “applauds all exploits that advance electric and hybrid aviation but we are not in the same category”.
Silent, emission-free future
Airbus’s all-electric E-Fan aircraft, a hit at the 2015 International Paris Air Show, is seen as paving the way for silent, zero-emission planes of the future.
Within 20 or 30 years we could at least have regional flights with about 60 passengers onboard a hybrid electric propulsion aircraft.Airbus chief, Thomas Enders
“This machine will allow us to deal with the problem of noise, and make steps to control greenhouse gas emissions. These are the two environmental problems of aviation,” director general of France’s civil aviation authority Patrick Gandil said.
The two-seater plane has carried out over 100 test flights since April 2010.
It weights 600 kilograms, is 6.7 metres long, and 9.5 metres wide.
According to Airbus the plane used its on-board lithium-ion battery system for 53 minutes during the crossing to Dunkerque, and 21 per cent of its energy was remaining after the flight.
The European aerospace giant is planning to commercialise a version of the aircraft, E-Fan 2.0, by 2017. A four-seater version E-Fan 4.0 is planned for 2019.
“Within 20 or 30 years we could at least have regional flights with about 60 passengers onboard a hybrid electric propulsion aircraft,” Airbus chief Thomas Enders said.
From other news sites:
Daily Telegraph: French pilot in tiny one-seater beats Airbus to first electric cross-Channel flight
Daily Mail: Frenchman becomes the first person to cross the Channel in an electric-powered plane – just HOURS before aeronautics giant Airbus made its own much-heralded attempt