The electric aircraft developed by Rolls-Royce for speed records has successfully completed its maiden flight. The 367 kW machine named Spirit of Innovation took off from the UK Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down site and flew for about 15 minutes.
The initiators described the maiden flight as another step – both towards the aircraft’s world record attempt – and on the aviation industry’s path to decarbonisation. Warren East, CEO of Rolls-Royce, emphasised that it was not just about breaking a world record: “The advanced battery and propulsion technology developed for this programme has exciting applications for the Urban Air Mobility market and can help make ‘jet zero’ a reality.”
The electric aeroplane, whose design Rolls-Royce unveiled earlier in late 2019, is part of the ACCEL initiative, short for Accelerating the Electrification of Flight. When the design was unveiled, it was still said that the record-breaking flight would take place in “late spring 2020”. That was a little too ambitious. Rolls-Royce has not yet given a new date for the record attempt.
The propulsion system of the Spirit of Innovation consists of three axially arranged electric motors, which produce 367 kW combined. The propeller is to rotate at up to 2,400 revolutions per minute when the aircraft reaches the targeted speed of 300 miles per hour (480 km/h). The power comes from more than 6,000 cells, according to Rolls-Royce.
Rolls-Royce initially completed ground tests with the aircraft in October 2020. Now, the “intensive flight test phase” following the maiden flight will collect valuable performance data on the electric power and propulsion system of the.
Other partners involved in the ACCEL programme are electric motor and control unit manufacturer Yasa and aviation start-up Electroflight. Half of the project funding is provided by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) in collaboration with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Innovate UK.
Rolls-Royce says it will use the technology from the ACCEL project in the future and apply it to products for new markets. The manufacturer says it already offers complete electric drive systems for eVTOLs or commuter aircraft. The British company says that the characteristics that air taxis require from batteries are very similar to those being developed for the Spirit of Innovation to enable it to reach speeds of 300+ mph (480+ km/h).
It was only in March that Rolls-Royce and aircraft designer Tecnam partnered with Norwegian regional airline Widerøe to bring an all-electric passenger aircraft into service by 2026. Rolls-Royce will supply the entire electric propulsion system, including an energy storage system, for the new P-Volt aircraft. In June, the engine manufacturer also made public its intention to pump a total of £80 million (around €93.4 million) into the development of new energy storage systems for aviation by 2030.
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