New Rolls-Royce All-Electric Aircraft Literally Takes Off
Rolls-Royce made another attempt at the world record with its all-electric plane.
This first flight is providing the company with the opportunity to collect valuable performance data on the aircraft’s electrical power and propulsion system.
In development is a complete electric propulsion system for its platform, whether that is an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) or commuter aircraft.
Rolls-Royce announced today the completion of the first flight of its all-electric Spirit of Innovation aircraft. At 14:56 (BST) the plane took to the skies propelled by its 400kW (500+hp) electric powertrain with the most power-dense battery pack ever assembled for an aircraft. This was another step towards the plane’s world-record attempt and another milestone on the aviation industry’s journey towards decarbonization.
Warren East, CEO of Rolls-Royce, said: “The first flight of the Spirit of Innovation is a great achievement for the ACCEL team and Rolls-Royce. We are focused on producing the technology breakthroughs society needs to decarbonize transport across air, land, and sea and capture the economic opportunity of the transition to net zero.
“This is not only about breaking a world record; the advanced battery and propulsion technology developed for this program has exciting applications for the Urban Air Mobility market and can help make ‘jet zero’ a reality.”
UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “This achievement, and the records we hope will follow, shows the UK remains right at the forefront of aerospace innovation. By backing projects like this one, the government is helping to drive forward the boundary, pushing technologies that will leverage investment and unlock the cleaner greener aircraft required to end our contribution to climate change.”
During this first flight, Rolls-Royce will be collecting valuable performance data on the aircraft’s electrical power and propulsion system. The ACCEL program, short for “Accelerating the Electrification of Flight,” includes key partners YASA, the electric motor and controller manufacturer, and aviation start-up Electroflight. The ACCEL team has continued to innovate while adhering to the UK Government’s social distancing and other health guidelines.
Half of the project’s funding is provided by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Innovate UK.
The CEO of Aerospace Technology Institute, Gary Elliott, said: “The ATI is funding projects like ACCEL to help UK develop new capabilities and secure a lead in the technologies that will decarbonize aviation. We congratulate everyone who has worked on the ACCEL project to make the first flight a reality and look forward to the world speed record attempt which will capture the imagination of the public in the year that the UK hosts COP26. The first flight of the Spirit of Innovation demonstrates how innovative technology can provide solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges.”
The company is developing for its customers a complete electric propulsion system for its platform, whether that is an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) or commuter aircraft. The company will be using the technology from the ACCEL project and applying it to products for these new markets. The characteristics that “air taxis” require from batteries are very similar to what is being developed for the Spirit of Innovation, so that it can reach speeds of 300+ MPH (480+ KMH) – which is target for the world record attempt. In addition, Rolls-Royce and airframer Tecnam are currently working with Widerøe, a regional airline in Scandinavia, to deliver an all-electric passenger aircraft for the commuter market, which is planned to be ready for revenue service in 2026.
Rolls-Royce is committed to ensuring its new products will be compatible with net zero operation by 2030 and all products will be compatible with net zero by 2050.