Historic all-electric aircraft flight across the Channel turns into a tale of three aeroplanes

Three all-electric flights across the Channel were planned for the second week in July but only two took off.

At 0915 GMT, what was aiming to be the first all-electric aeroplane to cross the English Channel took off from Lydd in Kent bound for Calais. For the Airbus group technology demonstrator this was another milestone following its 100th flight that took place at the Paris Air Show. After the show it was transported by lorry and ferry to the English side of the Channel to emulate the famous first flight in an aeroplane across that stretch of water, taken by Louis Blériot in 1909.

Electric flight is a new area of operation for the aviation industry, so no rules yet exist on the verification of the airworthiness of an electric motor. The French Direction Générale de l’Aviation Civile (DGAC), with Airbus Group and its partners conceived a dedicated test and verification programme to assure the safety of the E-Fan Channel flight.

While the Airbus plans were well in train, another all-electric aircraft, the Pipistrel ALPHA Electro, planned to cross the Channel and return without recharging on the previous Tuesday, but was prevented from making the attempt. The Pipistrel aircraft has been in development at the company’s Slovenian works for more than two years and has recently received certification to make it available for sale to aviation markets around the world. The plan for the English Channel flights were made after the French Pipistrel dealer obtained the necessary permits having demonstrated the aircraft endurance to the French authorities. However, just before the flight was to take place, Pipistrel’s General Manager Ivo Boscarol was informed by Siemens, the manufacturer of the electric motor, that the motor had not been designed, tested or approved for a flight above water.

Unfortunately, this put paid to the plans, seemingly leaving the Airbus E-Fan, piloted by Didier Esteyne, to lead the way across the Channel.

That was, until an independent French pilot, Hugues Duval, flew his Cri-Cri electric aeroplane from Calais to Dover and back on Thursday, 12 hours earlier. Because he did not have the required authorisation to take off from Calais, the Cri-Cri piggy-backed a conventionally powered aircraft at the start of the trip but Duval then took over and flew the rest of the way to the UK and back to France.

A case of: you wait ages for an all-electric aeroplane to cross the Channel...

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