Solo Frenchman beats Airbus across Channel in electric plane

Fri Jul 10, 2015 3:15pm EDT
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By Tim Hepher

PARIS (Reuters) - An attempt by Airbus to make history by crossing the English Channel in an electric plane ended in wounded pride on Friday after a French pilot claimed to have beaten it by hours.

In a further twist, a Slovenian businessman said he might have beaten both of them earlier in the week if he hadn't been robbed of his chance of glory.

In a contest that echoed the cloak-and-dagger rivalries of aviation's early pioneers, it was Frenchman Hugues Duval, 35, who emerged on top by secretly crossing the Channel in both directions in his one-seater Cri-Cri, launched off the top of another plane on Thursday evening.

"We crossed the Channel before Airbus. The only way I could do this was to hide and do it with the utmost discretion," he told Reuters.

That came more than 12 hours before Didier Esteyne piloted an Airbus E-Fan across the Channel from Lydd, in Kent, to land on French soil in Calais on Friday, watched by dozens of journalists and VIPs.

The E-Fan flight took the opposite direction from Louis Bleriot's first heavier-than-air crossing in 1909. Airbus's aim was to highlight the promise of electric flight, which it says could ultimately produce a 100-seat regional passenger plane.

Airbus gamely conceded defeat to the Cri-Cri, with its chief technology officer Jean Botti telling reporters, "It's not a victory but a start...the start of a great innovation."

Privately, however, Airbus officials said Duval's tiny one-seater, weighing just 70kg (154 lb) and built by a small team in Brittany, was too small to be considered an airplane. They also grumbled at the fact it had been catapulted by another plane.   Continued...

Pilot and designer Didier Esteyne takes off in the Airbus Group E-Fan electric aircraft, during an attempt to fly across the channel from Lydd Airport in southeast England, Britain July 10, 2015.    REUTERS/Luke MacGregor