The Future - Solar or Electric?

With the current efforts to circumnavigate the globe using a solar powered aircraft, it is perhaps worth reflecting on the history and the future of alternative powered flight.

The first crossing of the English Channel by a solar powered aircraft took place on July 7th 1981. The 163 mile crossing from Pontoise (North of Paris) to RAF Manston took 5 hours 23 minutes.

The aircraft was powered by two 3 horsepower motors, with the electricity being supplied by 16,128 solar cells mounted on the wing and the vertical stabilizer. The aircraft, the Solar Challenger, had a maximum speed of 40 mph and a projected range of 400 miles.

Progress continues to be made with alternative forms of power, with the latest landmark being crossings of the English Channel by electric aircraft. First was due to be the Airbus E-Fan, on the 10th July 2015, making the crossing in around 45 minutes. It was not the first, however, as a French pilot, Hugues Duval, in a one seater plane named 'The Cri Cri' beat the aviation giant to the record by a matter of hours.

Airbus has invested £14.7million in the development of the Airbus E-Fan, weighing just half a ton with a 60kw dual electric motor, the aircraft is emission free and almost silent.

Airbus aims to develop have production e-fans available by 2017 and has plans to develop an all electric 90 seat regional aircraft which would be ready for airline service by 2050. 

7th July 2015