We have more news on the Rolls-Royce electric airplane (e-plane) ACCEL, as it was unveiled in front of an eager crowd at the Gloucestershire Airport this week, perfect for the holiday season.
Rolls-Royce wants to build the world’s fastest electric aircraft and has now begun integrating its electrical propulsion platform for this ultimate aim. The plan is for the e-plane to reach over 300 mph (480+ km/h, 417+ kt) by late spring 2020. As part of its initiative called ACCEL — “Accelerating the Electrification of Flight” — Rolls-Royce will race the e-plane in the upcoming Air Race E we wrote about previously following an interview with its CEO, Jeff Zaltman.
The project includes electric motor and controller manufacturer YASA and aviation startup Electroflight, with funding from the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Innovate UK.
The Rolls-Royce press release quotes Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi as saying: “The UK has a proud heritage and enviable worldwide reputation for advances in aviation technology. The electrification of flight has the potential to revolutionise the way we travel and transform aviation for decades to come – ensuring we can travel worldwide while maintaining a low carbon footprint. Backed by government funding, Rolls-Royce is pushing the boundaries even further, and this new innovation could become the fastest electric plane ever.”
The statement was followed by Rob Watson, Director of Rolls-Royce Electrical, saying: “Building the world’s fastest all-electric aircraft is nothing less than a revolutionary step change in aviation, and we are delighted to unveil the ACCEL project plane. This is not only an important step towards the world-record attempt but will also help to develop Rolls-Royce’s capabilities and ensure that we are at the forefront of developing technology that can play a fundamental role in enabling the transition to a low carbon global economy.”
Rolls-Royce also unveiled the electrical technology propelling the aircraft in what it calls the “ionBird” — a play on word for iron bird, a term used for an airfoil testing aeronautic projects. The ionBird will be used to test the electric propulsion system before its full integration into the ACCEL over the next couple of months.
Gary Elliott, CEO of the Aerospace Technology Institute, said: “The ATI is proud to partner with Rolls-Royce on the ACCEL programme because we believe it will lead to exciting new developments in electric propulsion. One of the priorities of the ATI is looking at how aviation can be more sustainable, and ACCEL will be a critical step in our understanding of how electric propulsion fits into that broader aspiration for the UK aerospace sector. We are also excited about the way it establishes a new and innovative supply chain, bringing together the best of the UK that includes cross-sector expertise, start-up energy and critical domain leadership.”
That was followed by Chris Harris, CEO at YASA, saying: “YASA’s electric motor technology is ideal for powering electric flight — the advantages we see on the road are amplified in the air where reducing size and weight for a given power and torque is even more important. We share the same passion for engineering as the team at Rolls-Royce and are delighted to partner with them on ACCEL, a project that’s ushering in a new age of sustainable, electric flight.”
So far, we know the ACCEL will have the most power-dense aviation battery pack to date, which will provide “enough energy to fuel 250 homes or fly 200 miles (London to Paris) on a single charge.” It will pack 6,000 cells and include an advanced cooling system. Its propeller is driven by 3 high-power density axial electric motors. When used together, the 3 electric motors will produce 500 HP. As with anything related to a high-torque electric motor, the propeller blades spin at a lower RPM. The efficiency is expected to reach 90%. Rolls-Royce boasts that “a Formula 1 race car tops out at close to 50% energy efficiency.”
As we close this year, and a decade with it, I’m left grinning. Just 7 years ago I wondered when electricity would take to the air and when the convergence of the automotive and aviation industries would collide. It’s happening. Stay tuned for more.