Airbus vs Pipistrel: An Electrifying English Channel Race

Airbus planning Channel crossing tomorrow.

The aviation world hasn’t witnessed this type of intrigue in 106 years — at least as far as an English Channel crossing is concerned. Seeking to replicate Louis Blériot’s famous overwater flight in July 1909, two would-be electric-airplane producers, Airbus and Pipistrel, are preparing to make historic Channel crossings this week in battery-powered prototypes. But only one, it seems, will be given the opportunity to succeed.

Pipistrel has reportedly received an urgent letter from electric motor maker Siemens ordering it to “stop any further use” of the company’s 80 kilowatt motor in its **Alpha Electro trainer **for a Channel crossing that should have happened on Tuesday. The German engineering conglomerate cites dire safety concerns with the 24-mile overwater flight — even though Slovenia-based Pipistrel insists its little airplane can make the journey with plenty of electricity to spare.

There might be another, less obvious reason for the sudden cease-and-desist order, higher ups at Pipistrel suspect. Airbus is planning to make a crossing of the English Channel tomorrow in its innovative E-Fan demonstrator powered by — you guessed it — a Siemens electric motor.

Not only does Siemens supply the E-Fan 1.0’s motor, but it has also signed on as major partner with the new Airbus subsidiary VoltAir SAS to build plug-in and hybrid-electric GA airplanes at a new factory in the south of France.

You can read all about the Airbus project in the July issue of Flying. In the meantime, we shall see if the E-Fan is successful in crossing the English Channel from England to France tomorrow or whether Pipistrel can still manage to steal some of the aerospace giant’s P.R. thunder.

Either way, somewhere Louis Blériot is sure to be looking down and smiling.

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