Rolls-Royce’s Spirit of Innovation made its first flight on September 15 as it prepares for an attempt to set a new world speed record for an electric aircraft by exceeding 300 mph. The UK-based aero engines group is using the aircraft as a testbed for electric propulsion technology that it wants to apply for eVTOL vehicles and other advanced air mobility platforms.
The Spirit of Innovation team is operating from the UK Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down site in southern England. The first flight lasted 15 minutes after the aircraft took off just before 3 p.m. local time, and more flights are anticipated throughout September.
Flight testing of the Spirit of Innovation is part of the Accelerating the Electrification of Flight (ACCEL) program, which also includes electric motor and controller maker Yasa and battery specialist Electroflight. The single-seat aircraft is fitted with a 400-kW (500+ hp) electric powertrain and what Rolls-Royce claims is the most power-dense battery pack ever assembled for an aircraft.
The Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) has provided half the funding for the ACCEL program in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy. As it prepares to host the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow this December, the UK government is seeking to demonstrate its commitment to support efforts to decarbonize aviation and has set a goal of requiring zero carbon domestic flights by 2040.
“We are focused on producing the technology breakthroughs society needs to decarbonize transport across air, land, and sea, and capture the economic opportunity of the transition to net zero,” said Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East. “This is not only about breaking a world record; the advanced battery and propulsion technology developed for this program has exciting applications for the urban air mobility market and can help make ‘jet zero’ a reality.”
Rolls-Royce is developing the electric propulsion system for Vertical Aerospace’s four-passenger eVTOL aircraft. It is also partnered with Italian aircraft manufacturer Tecnam to develop the nine-passenger P-Volt model for regional airline services, for which Norwegian operator Wideroe is the launch customer.