Okay, it may not be that wild, but there’s been a bit of controversy in the world of electric aviation as of late.
A French pilot, Didier Esteyne, believed he set a record for being the first pilot to fly in a battery-powered plan across the English Channel — hopping from one shore to another (or one runway to another, as it may be) with all of the energy coming from batteries.
However, another French pilot, Hugues Duval, seemed to have been eavesdropping on Didier Esteyne’s plans or something and hopped across the Channel first — just a day before Didier — in his Cri-Cri electric plane. Hair pulling, clawing, bird-like screaming, “yo mama” jokes, and minor stabbing followed. Jerry Springer tried to calm Didier and Hugues down while giving them some invaluable life advice that they will cherish every night before they go to bed. (Er, maybe I got carried away… scratch the part from “hair pulling” on.)
The controversy may have been more civil than a fake, Floridian-hosted talk show from the 1990s, but that’s not to say everyone was enjoying themselves. “Controversy broke out, with Esteyne’s team downplaying Duval’s claim to the title, saying he launched from another aircraft rather than taking off from land like their pilot. Later, they congratulated Duval on his effort,” The Shuttle writes.
Electric car “range anxiety” (or “range anxiety anxiety“) probably doesn’t have anything on the range anxiety the pilot of a battery-powered electric plane can feel. Esteyne’s twin-engine plane can just stay in the air for about 50 minutes when the batteries have been fully charged. Luckily (or via commonsense planning — whatev), the 45-mile flight from Lydd Airport in Kent to Calais took Esteyne about 36 minutes. His plan got up to 90 mph (km/h) at points.
57-year-old Esteyne made this historic flight nearly 106 years after French aviator Louis Bleriot made his historic, world-record flight over the English Channel on July 25, 1909 (something I’m sure you had memorized).
As you might expect, the benefits of flying a battery-powered plane are similar to the benefits you get from driving an electric car. “It is closer to a glider because there is less noise than an aeroplane. Also, there is no vibration at all. It’s smooth and very quiet,” Esteyne said. But while I love me some electric cars, I think I’d put a flight in an electric airplane on hold for a decade or two. “Today I can tell you it was perfect — the weather was perfect, the plane went very well,” Esteyne also said. “All the team, all the crew, everything went very well, so it was perfect. I’m here with you because it was perfect.” Hmm, and if it hadn’t been perfect?
When asked about Duval, Esteyne apparently acted like a stereotypical Frenchman. He said, “I don’t have to talk about Mr Duval. I don’t care about him.” Indeed….
However, Airbus Group game Duval some props, and it’s worth noting that Duval didn’t just decide in a rush of neighborly competitiveness to try to ruin Esteyne’s week. He had been developing his battery-powered electric plane for years.
Here are some more details on Esteyne’s electric airplane, via The Shuttle:
The two-seat E-Fan has a 31ft wing-span, is two metres in height, with a total engine power of 60 kiloWatt and it operates on a 120-cell lithium polymer battery system.
With no fuel burden, the plane, which made its maiden flight in March last year, can be landed, its batteries unplugged and fly again after having a spare set fitted.
The E-Fan 1.0 has undergone 100 flights, and the project has taken 18 months from paper to its first flight.
Battery swapping, eh? That might actually make sense for planes.
Tip of the hat to Bob Wallace.