Rolls-Royce’s ‘Spirit of Innovation’ is now officially the world’s fastest all-electric aircraft, the company claims. The airplane set two new world records that have now been independently verified.
The aircraft broke the existing record by 213.04 km/h when it attained a top speed of 555.9 km/h (345.4 mph) across 3 kilometers on November 16, 2021.
Further tests were conducted at the Boscombe Down experimental aircraft testing site administered by the UK Ministry of Defence, where the plane reached a speed of 532.1 km/h (330 mph) over a distance of 15 kilometers. This time, it was 292.8 km/h (182 mph) faster than the previous record.
Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the Switzerland-based organization that certifies world aeronautical and astronautical records, has now officially verified two records set by the airplane.
The aircraft, which is part of the UK Government-backed ACCEL or ‘Accelerating the Electrification of Flight’ program, also reached a top speed of 623 km/h (387.4mph) during its record-breaking runs, marking it the world’s fastest all-electric vehicle, Rolls-Royce claimed.
Warren East, CEO, Rolls-Royce, said: “Achieving 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 aviation start-up 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. 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.”
‘Most Power-Dense’ Battery Pack
The Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), in collaboration with the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Innovate, UK, is funding the ACCEL project.
The aircraft was propelled by a 400kW (500+hp) electric engine and is equipped with what is called the most power-dense propulsion battery pack ever manufactured in aerospace. Rolls-Royce collaborated with Electroflight, an aircraft energy storage startup, and YASA, an automobile powertrain provider on this.
In addition to being a magnificent technological feat, the project and the world-record run offered critical data for future electric power and propulsion systems to be used in urban air mobility (UAM) and hybrid-electric commuter aircraft.
The requirements for ‘air taxi’ batteries, for example, are remarkably similar to those designed for the ‘Spirit of Innovation.’
Two more British companies have contributed to the ACCEL program: Jaguar Land Rover, which has loaned their all-electric zero-emission Jaguar I-PACE cars as towing and support vehicles, and Bremont, the luxury watchmaker, which was the official timing partner for the record attempt.
Gary Elliott, CEO of the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), said: “The ACCEL project demonstrates that strategic investment in UK technology and innovation can achieve extraordinary world-beating results, and sets us firmly on the path to decarbonizing passenger flight in the future.
This achievement of Rolls-Royce, Electroflight and YASA will resonate for many years to come and inspire the next generation of aerospace engineers. They deserve their place in the record books and the ATI is proud to have played our part in that. Congratulations to the whole team.”
Breaking The Previous Record
Rolls-Royce has a long history of attempting and breaking flying speed records, starting from the Schneider Trophy, which was awarded annually to the winner of a race for seaplanes and flying boats, in the early 1930s.
The speed attained by the test pilot and Rolls-Royce Director of Flight Operations, Phill O’Dell, in the ‘Spirit of Innovation’ was greater than 213.04 km/h (132 mph). It broke the previous record set in 2017 by Extra 330 LE Aerobatic plane, which was powered by a Siemens electric engine.
According to the Rolls-Royce press statement, there has never been such a significant gain in speed in such a short duration in the history of the World Air Sports Federation (FAI). This illustrates the tremendous rate at which aerospace electrification is progressing.
Phill O’Dell said: “Breaking 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.”
The Rolls-Royce Spirit of Innovation aircraft, according to UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, is a testament to the UK’s remarkable credentials in terms of innovation. This record will demonstrate the potential of electric flight and aid in the development of technology that could make it a reality, he said.
He added that the government is happy to support projects like this that will help unlock the private investment needed to unlock cleaner, greener aircraft, allowing people to travel as they do now while reducing emissions.