Rolls-Royce’s first all-electric aircraft has completed its maiden flight in the skies above the UK ahead of a world record attempt later this year.
The ‘Spirit of Innovation’ soared for around 15 minutes, having taken off from the MOD’s Boscombe Down airfield in Wiltshire on Wednesday.
With its powerful 400kW (500+hp) electric powertrain and the most power-dense battery pack ever assembled for an aircraft, the Spirit of Innovation represents a significant step towards all-electric aircraft becoming a regular feature of our skies and on the aviation industry’s journey towards decarbonisation.
In a statement issued to coincide with the milestone, Rolls-Royce said it marks “the beginning of an intense flight-testing phase in which we will be collecting valuable performance data on the aircraft’s electrical power and propulsion system”.
Rolls-Royce is looking to build on the Spirit of Innovation’s success and attempt to set a new world record for electric flight speed later this year. The current record stands at 210mph, but Rolls-Royce believes it will be able to surpass 300mph.
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.”
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “The first flight of Rolls-Royce’s revolutionary Spirit of Innovation aircraft 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.
“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.”
The Spirit of Innovation is part of Rolls-Royce’s ACCEL programme, which is looking to accelerate the electrification of the aviation industry. The ACCEL programme — which is half-funded by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), in partnership with the Department for Business and Innovate UK — includes electric motor and controller specialist YASA and aviation start-up Electroflight.
“The first flight of the Spirit of Innovation demonstrates how innovative technology can provide solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges,” said Gary Elliott, CEO, Aerospace Technology Institute. “The ATI is funding projects like ACCEL to help UK develop new capabilities and secure a lead in the technologies that will decarbonise aviation. We congratulate everyone who has worked on the ACCEL project to make the first flight a reality and look forward to the world speed record attempt which will capture the imagination of the public in the year that the UK hosts COP26.”
Going forward, Rolls-Royce says it will use and apply tech from the ACCEL programme in products for the commuter aircraft and electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) markets.
Rolls-Royce is also currently working alongside aircraft manufacturer Tecnam to deliver an all-electric passenger aircraft for the commuter market for Norway-headquartered airline Wideroe.
See the Spirit of Innovation in action below:
*All images courtesy of Rolls-Royce