Rolls-Royce Spirit of Innovation’ sets all-electric aircraft speed record
Even as the puzzle of endurance remains unresolved for now, a speed run by Rolls-Royce Spirit of Innovation, addresses one of the key questions around electric flight.
The British propulsion systems behemoth, believes that its all-electric ‘Spirit of Innovation’ is the world’s fastest all-electric aircraft, after setting three new world records. The company has submitted data to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) – the World Air Sports Federation that controls and certifys world aeronautical and astronautical records – for a top speed of 555.9 km/h (345.4 mph) over a 3 kilometres distance by the Spirit of Innovation at 15:45 (GMT) on November 16.
The aircraft beat the existing record by 213.04 km/h (132mph). In further runs at the UK Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down experimental aircraft testing site, the aircraft achieved 532.1km/h (330 mph) over 15 kilometres which was still 292.8km/h (182mph) faster than the previous record – and broke the fastest time to climb to 3000 metres by 60 seconds with a time of 202 seconds, according to internal company data. We hope that the FAI will certify and officially confirm the achievements of the team in the near future.
Rolls-Royce adds that during its record-breaking runs, the aircraft clocked a maximum speed of 623 km/h (387.4 mph) which would make the ‘Spirit of Innovation’ the world’s fastest all-electric vehicle.
“Staking the claim for the all-electric world-speed record is a fantastic achievement for the ACCEL team and Rolls-Royce. I would like to thank our partners and especially Electroflight for their collaboration in achieving this pioneering breakthrough. The advanced battery and propulsion technology developed for this programme has exciting applications for the Advanced Air Mobility market,” said Rolls-Royce chief executive Warren East.
“Following the world’s focus on the need for action at COP26, this is another milestone that will help make ‘jet zero’ a reality and supports our ambitions to deliver the technology breakthroughs society needs to decarbonise transport across air, land and sea.”
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the speed record will show the potential of electric flight and help to unlock the technologies that could make it part of everyday life.
“The government is proud to back projects like this to leverage the private investment necessary to unlock cleaner, greener aircraft which will allow people to fly as they do now, but in a way that cuts emissions,” he said.
Dr Tim Woolmer, YASA’s Chief Technology Officer and Founder said, “Electric flight is set to be as transformative for mobility as the jet engine was 70 years ago. It’s thrilling to see our ultra-high performance, super-low weight electric motors powering the ‘Spirit of Innovation’ to these great speeds, and to know that collaborative projects like ACCEL take us one step closer to emissions-free electric flight becoming a commercial reality for all.”
The ‘Spirit of Innovation’ is part of the ACCEL – ‘Accelerating the Electrification of Flight’ project. 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 aircraft was propelled on its record-breaking runs by a 400kW (500+hp) electric powertrain and the most power-dense propulsion battery pack ever assembled in aerospace. Rolls-Royce worked with aviation energy storage specialist Electroflight and automotive powertrain supplier YASA. The project and world record runs provided important data for future electric power and propulsion systems for all-electric urban air mobility and hybrid-electric commuter aircraft. The characteristics that ‘air-taxis’ require from batteries, for instance, are very similar to what was developed for the ‘Spirit of Innovation’.
Stjohn Youngman, Managing Director, Electroflight. “We are delighted to have played an integral role in this landmark project. Its success is a fitting tribute to the dedication and innovation of the Electroflight team and our suppliers. Developing the propulsion and battery system, in collaboration with experienced program partners, has resulted in a world class engineering capability that will lead the way towards the decarbonisation of air travel. Our next step is to adapt this pioneering technology so it can be applied across the wider aerospace industry to deliver a more sustainable way to fly.”
The speed achieved by test pilot and Rolls-Royce Director of Flight Operations Phill O’Dell in the ‘Spirit of Innovation’ was more than 213.04 km/h (132 mph) faster than the previous record set by the Siemens eAircraft powered Extra 330 LE Aerobatic aircraft in 2017.
Phill O’Dell said: “Flying the ‘Spirit of Innovation’ at these incredible speeds and believing we have broken the world-record for all-electric flight is a momentous occasion. This is the highlight of my career and is an incredible achievement for the whole team. The opportunity to be at the forefront of another pioneering chapter of Rolls-Royce’s story as we look to deliver the future of aviation is what dreams are made of.”