The quest for zero-fuel transportation options is a competitive one, with innovators in various countries racing to be the first at any number of landmark achievements. This morning, not one but two electric planes successfully flew across the English Channel, making it quite a historic day for clean energy. First, a French pilot navigated a single-passenger electric airplane from France to England and back, securing a ‘first’ for battery-powered flight. Hours later, Airbus launched an electric plane from England to travel a similar flight path and that plane landed safely in France to complete its one-way trip across the Channel.
The Airbus e-Fan is a 1,300-lb, 20-foot-long aircraft that was piloted by Didier Esteyne from Lydd, England, to the French port of Calais. That journey follows the same flight path used by French pilot Louis Bleriot in 1909 when he made history as the first person to fly a plane across the English Channel. The e-Fan first took flight in 2014 and has been in the air quite a bit in preparation for this water crossing, taking off over 100 times since the plane flew at the Paris Air Show in June. Airbus wants to put the two-seater on the market in 2017 for use in training facilities to teach new pilots how to fly.
Related: Fully electric e-Fan completes its maiden flight in France
It’s unclear at this time whether the Airbus team was aware when Esteyne took off that a French pilot named Hugues Duval had, 12 hours prior, completed the round-trip flight across the English Channel in a similar aircraft. Duval’s two-engine Cricri plane seats just one person, and he piloted the electric plane from Calais to Dover and back. Duval admitted to the Associated Press that his plane didn’t have authorization to take off from Calais, so a fuel-driven plane towed his aircraft for the start of the journey. He says he completed the rest of the trip autonomously. It’s not known whether this tow-start will have an impact on Duval’s claim to the record first.
Both of the electric planes that crossed the Channel are battery-powered. Without fuel or water, the planes produce zero emissions, making them completely carbon neutral. Although these aircrafts are experimental models and small in size, engineering researchers are looking to scale up and eventually make a 100-seater capable of making the same journey.
Meanwhile, the team behind the solar-powered zero-fuel Solar Impulse 2 is kicking back in Hawaii, celebrating after a successful trans-Pacific journey without using a single drop of fossil fuels. The experimental aircraft will remain in Hawaii until conditions are ideal for embarking on the second half of its round-the-world flight, powered entirely by the sun. Its electric battery-powered counterparts will have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to chasing SI2’s world records, but at least the electric planes don’t get grounded for weeks on end because of a few clouds.
Images via Airbus