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Rolls-Royce’s world record bid electric plane takes off

16 September, 2021

Rolls-Royce has flown its all-electric Spirit of Innovation aircraft for the first time. The craft – with which the company hopes to set a new world speed record for electrically powered planes – took off from the UK Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down site on 15 September and flew for about 15 minutes.

The plane, propelled by a 400kW electric powertrain with “the most power-dense battery pack ever assembled for an aircraft”, marked the start of an flight-testing phase during which Rolls-Royce will collect performance data on the aircraft’s power and propulsion system.

The aircraft is being developed as part of a UK government-backed programme called Accel (Accelerating the Electrification of Flight) with partners that include Yasa, the UK-based developer of axial-flux electric motors and controls that was recently bought by Mercedes-Benz, and the aviation battery specialist, Electroflight.

Half of the project funding is coming from the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Innovate UK.

“The first flight of the Spirit of Innovation is a great achievement for the Accel team and Rolls-Royce,” says the company’s CEO, Warren East. “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,” he adds. “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.”

UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng says that the flight “signals a huge step forward in the global transition to cleaner forms of flight. This achievement, and the records we hope will follow, shows the UK remains right at the forefront of aerospace innovation.

The Spirit of Innovation all-electric aircraft takes off on its maiden flight

“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.”

Rolls-Royce will be applying technologies from Accel to electric propulsion systems for platforms such as electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVtol) and commuter aircraft. The characteristics that “air taxis” will need from batteries are similar to those that will allow the Spirit of to reach speeds of more than 480km/h.

Rolls-Royce is also working with the airframe builder Tecnam and Scandinavia’s largest regional airline, Widerøe, to deliver an all-electric passenger aircraft for the commuter market, which is planned to be ready to enter service in 2026.

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The aircraft is powered by a 400kW electric powertrain based on an axial-flux motor and a high power density battery

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