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Rolls-Royce Builds World’s Fastest Electric Airplane

Rolls-Royce, plc Rolls Royce Aircraft.jpg
‘Spirit of Innovation’ aircraft is the world’s fastest all-electric aircraft, setting three new world records—including a top speed of 345.4 mph over 3 kilometers.

Aircraft engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce has submitted data to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) – the World Air Sports Federation who control and certify world aeronautical and astronautical records – that it's all-electric ‘Spirit of Innovation’ aircraft reached a top speed of 555.9 km/h (345.4 mph) over 3 kilometers, smashing the existing record by 213.04 km/h (132mph). The record runs took place on November 16 at the UK Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down experimental aircraft testing site. The aircraft achieved 532.1km/h (330 mph) over 15 kilometers – 292.8km/h (182mph) faster than the previous record – and broke the fastest time to climb to 3000 meters by 60 seconds with a time of 202 seconds, according to the company’s data. The FAI will need to certify and confirm the achievements of the team for the records to become official.

World’s Fastest EV

During its record-breaking runs, the aircraft clocked up a maximum speed of 623 km/h (387.4 mph) which we believe makes the ‘Spirit of Innovation’ the world’s fastest all-electric vehicle, according to Warren East, CEO, Rolls-Royce. “Staking the claim for the all-electric world-speed record is a fantastic achievement for the ACCEL team and Rolls-Royce,” East said in a RR news release. “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 program has exciting applications for the Advanced Air Mobility market. 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 decarbonize transport across air, land, and sea.”

Partnerships

The ‘Spirit of Innovation’ is part of the ACCEL or ‘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 Rolls-Royce 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,” according to the company. Partners included aviation energy storage specialist Electroflight and automotive powertrain supplier YASA.

Stjohn Youngman, Managing Director, Electroflight said in the RR news release, “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 decarbonization 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.”

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.”

From the Pilots

The speed achieved by the 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.  Electroflight test pilot Steve Jones flew the ‘Spirit of Innovation’ aircraft for the 15km and the time to climb to 3000 meters record runs. In the history of the FAI record attempts, the ‘Spirit of Innovation’ demonstrated the biggest increase in speed over such a short time ever recorded and it “highlights the rapid pace at which electrification of aerospace is advancing.

RR pilot 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.”

Kevin Clemens is a Senior Editor with Battery Technology.

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