UK-based global major industrial technology group Rolls-Royce has announced that its all-electric aircraft, ‘Spirit of Innovation’, made its maiden flight on Wednesday, at 14h56 British Summer Time. The aircraft has been specifically developed by a Rolls-Royce-led consortium, under the ‘Accelerating the Electrification of Flight’ (ACCEL) programme, to set a new world speed record for electrically-powered aircraft. The intent is for the aircraft to reach speeds of 480 km/h, and more.
“The first flight of the ‘Spirit of Innovation’ is a great achievement for the ACCEL team and Rolls-Royce,” affirmed Rolls-Royce 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; the advanced battery and propulsion technology developed for this programme has exciting applications for the Urban Air Mobility [flying taxi] market and can help make ‘jet zero’ a reality.”
The ‘Spirit of Innovation’ propulsion system is a 400 kW electric powertrain, the battery pack of which is the most power-dense ever put together for use in an aircraft. The flight took place at the UK Ministry of Defence’s world-renowned Boscombe Down experimental aviation facility (which is managed by QinetiQ). The duration of this first sortie was about 15 minutes. An intense flight-test programme will now follow, to gather data on the performance of the electrical power and propulsion system.
The other main partners in ACCEL are electric motor and controller manufacturer YASA and the aviation startup company Electroflight. The project receives half of its funding from the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) and the UK government (in the shape of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy). The ATI is itself a joint endeavour between UK industry and government.
“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,” highlighted UK Business Secretary (Cabinet Minister) Kwasi Kwarteng. “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 first flight of the ‘Spirit of Innovation’ demonstrates how innovative technology can provide solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges,” pointed out ATI CEO Gary Elliott. “The ATI is funding projects like ACCEL to help [the] UK develop new capabilities and secure a lead in the technologies that will decarbonise aviation.”