Airbus E-Fan electric aircraft crosses English Channel

Posted on 13 Jul 2015 by Michael Cruickshank

An all-electric aircraft designed by Airbus has flown across the English Channel as part of a showcase of the company’s new technology.

The flight itself was intended to be the first ever crossing of the English Channel by an electric aircraft; however things did not go as planned for European aircraft manufacturer.

Hugues Duwal, an aircraft privateer flew a tiny electric Colomban Cri Cri E-Cristaline across the Channel the night before, beating Airbus to the punch.

Despite its PR stunt being compromised, Airbus pressed ahead with its plans, and its experimental E-Fan aircraft became the second all-electric craft to make the crossing, completing the 74 kilometre flight in around 37 minutes.

The E-Fan all-electric general aviation training aircraft on display at the Berlin Air Show in 2014 - image courtesy of Airbus
The E-Fan all-electric general aviation training aircraft on display at the Berlin Air Show in 2014 – image courtesy of Airbus

While it wasn’t first, Airbus’s E-Fan aircraft is significantly more advanced than other electric aeroplanes.

Despite running entirely on notoriously heavy Lithium-Ion batteries, the craft managed to weigh in at a mere a 600kg.

To achieve this, the aircraft makes use of two lightweight 30KW engines developed in-house by Airbus, as well as a carbon fibre airframe.

In its current configuration, it is able to travel at a top speed of 200km/h and able to cruise for between 45 minutes and hour.

Airbus had flown many test fights with the E-Fan demonstrator before it decided to imitate Louis Blériot’s pioneering journey across the English Channel in 1909.

“The E-Fan project and today’s historic Channel crossing show that the pioneering spirit and ingenuity demonstrated by Louis Blériot and the other early aviators is still alive today. The 10th of July 2015 will now join the list of famous days in aviation history,” said Jean Botti, Airbus Group Chief Technical Officer.

Electric aircraft roadmap

While the E-Fan aircraft is just a demonstrator, Airbus has plans to commercialise battery-powered electric aircraft in the coming years.

The vehicle flown in today’s flight will be followed by the E-Fan 2.0, a commercial, two seater aircraft with the same design cues. This will then be superseded by a more advanced, 4 seater craft called the E-Fan 4.0.

In the longer-term, Airbus has been working with Rolls-Royce in order to develop new lightweight and high-power electric engines to allow for battery-electric craft to enter the mainstream aeroplane market.