Electric airplanes are making more and more headlines as technology improves, and are now increasingly setting unseen records. First it was the Solar Impulse airplane, marking the longest journey ever made by solar powered electric plane. Now, the guys from Airbus are also making history with their plane- the E-Fan technology demonstrator, being the first electric plane to cross the English Channel, covering the distance Lydd (UK) – Kent (UK) – Calais (FR), last week Friday.
The challenge was set by the Daily Mail newspaper, offering a prize of £1,000 (US$1,500) to the winner (not that whoever grabbed it would be in for the money). Back in 1909, the same newspaper was the first to challenge makers of powered airplanes to cross the channel, and gave the title to Louis Blériot and his Blériot XI.
The distance is relatively short, but it is aimed at practical electric airplanes, which could eventually carry passengers. The development by Airbus, which took about £14 million (US$22 million) of investments to realize, fits the profile perfectly. We introduced E-fan in great detail about a year ago, but it was still under construction back then. Now it is real, it is a two-seater, with a wingspan of 31 ft (9.5m) and it is 22ft (6.7m) long. It has two electric motors and series of 250 V lithium-ion polymer batteries.
The news is quite great, although it might turn out it is not entirely accurate. Just 12 hours prior to this memorable flight, the Cri-Cri Electric Plane managed to quietly fly over the route Dover (UK)- Calais (FR) on battery power, flown by the French pilot- Hugues Duval. This electric plane is slightly smaller- 16ft (4.9m) long and has two 35 bhp Electravia electric motors.
Although the aircraft landed safely in Calais before E-Fan even took off, the Cri-Cri was not granted with an official permission to take off from Dover, and had to be towed in the air by a conventional airplane, which might mean a loss of the title.
There was a third competitor, the plane by the Slovenian company Pipistrel, flying on an electric motor made by Siemens. Unfortunately, Siemens did not allow the plane to fly over water with their technology.
We will have to wait a bit to see who really gets the prize- but regardless of who is named the winner, it is definitely a moment to be marked.
Image (c) Airbus Group