Rolls-Royce’s all-electric ‘Spirit of Innovation’ aircraft completed its first flight this week, propelled by its powerful 400kW (500+hp) electric powertrain with the most power-dense battery pack ever assembled for an aircraft.
This is another step towards the plane’s world-record attempt and another milestone on the aviation industry’s journey towards decarbonisation.
Warren East, CEO, 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 decarbonise 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 programme has exciting applications for the Urban Air Mobility market and can help make ‘jet zero’ a reality.”
The aircraft took off from the UK Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down site, which is managed by QinetiQ and flew for approximately 15 minutes. The first flight marks the beginning of an intense flight-testing phase in which Rolls-Royce will be collecting valuable performance data on the aircraft’s electrical power and propulsion system.
The ACCEL programme, short for ‘Accelerating the Electrification of Flight’ includes key partners YASA, the electric motor and controller manufacturer, and aviation start-up Electroflight.
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. In the run up to COP26, the ACCEL programme is further evidence of the UK’s position at the forefront of the zero-emission aircraft revolution.
“We will be using the technology from the ACCEL project and applying it to products for these exciting 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 we are targeting in our world record attempt,” the company said in a release.
In addition, Rolls-Royce and airframer Tecnam are currently working with Widerøe, the largest 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 added, “We are committed to ensuring our new products will be compatible with net zero operation by 2030 and all our products will be compatible with net zero by 2050.”