Solo Frenchman beats Airbus across Channel in electric plane
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...