A pair of French pilots has made history, separately flying electric planes over the English Channel in what is being hailed as two historic milestones in the field of aviation.
The first voyage was completed by Hugues Duval, who according to Discovery News flew a one-seat Columbian Cri-Cri from Calais to Dover and back to purportedly become the first pilot to fly an electric aircraft over the body of water separating England from northern France.
Duval actually didn’t have the authorization to take off from Calais, and his 220-pound plane was towed by a fuel-driven plane at the start of the trip. Afterwards, he flew to Dover and then back to Calais, where he landed after a 31-mile journey during which he reached a top speed of 90 miles per hour.
Twelve hours later, French pilot Didier Esteyne flew a two-seater Airbus E-Fan over the Channel, departing from the UK town of Lydd, reaching an attitude of 3,500 feet, and arriving in Calais 38 minutes after first lifting off.
Who was first (and does it even really matter)?
While it might seem cut-and-dry who was first and who was second, Airbus disagrees. Officials at the company are challenging Duval’s feat, calming that since the Cri-Cri had been towed by a second aircraft, the feat should not officially count as a record-setting feat.
In a statement, Jean Botti, Chief Technical Officer of the Airbus Group, said, “We now have taken a major step toward series production, which will lead to the development and manufacture of electric aircraft that are safe, reliable, and certifiable to airworthiness standards.”
“Although I was alone in the cockpit, were many people ‘flying’ with me today in this great success,” added Esteyne, designer and test pilot of the lithium-ion battery powered E-Fan. “It was the result of a fantastic team effort that brought much passion and the will to achieve.”
“While this is absurd theatrics for a minor first, it’s a promising sign for the future of electric aviation, and hearkens back to the early days of human flight, with multiple claims of firsts,” said Popular Science. Discovery News added that the two Channel flights, along with the recent journey of the Solar Impulse, prove that “the advent of emission-free flight has dawned.”