Rolls-Royce Aerospace has been working on a battery-electric airplane for several years. Its first plane, dubbed Spirit of Innovation, made a test flight — a 15-minute jaunt — in September. Just two months later, the plane made its first extended flight. The goal was to exceed 300 mph (483 km/h).
According to Engadget, when the flight was over, Spirit of Innovation hit a top speed of 387.4 mph (623.5 km/h) and averaged 345.4 mph over a 3 kilometer (1.86 mile) long course. But Spirit of Innovation wasn’t done. It also set a record for the fastest time to climb to 3000 meters (9,843 feet) — 202 seconds (0.0476 parsecs).
The records have been submitted to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the body responsible for certifying aeronautic records. If confirmed, the new record will beat the old 3 kilometer speed record for an electric airplane by 132 mph (212 km/h).
After the record setting flight, Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East said in a press release, “Staking the claim for 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 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. Following the world’s focus on the need for action at COPn26, 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.”
The Spirit of Innovation is part of the ACCEL or Accelerating the Electrification of Flight project. Half of the project’s funding is provided by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Innovate UK.
The Spirit of Innovation uses 750 volt architecture and was propelled on its record breaking runs by a 400kW (500+hp) electric powertrain and the most power-dense propulsion battery pack ever assembled in aerospace, Rolls-Royce says. “We worked in partnership with aviation energy storage specialist Electroflight and automotive powertrain supplier YASA. As well as a stunning technical achievement, the project and world record runs provided important data for our future electric power and propulsion systems for all-electric urban air mobility and hybrid-electric commuter aircraft. The characteristics that ‘air-taxis’ require from batteries, for instance, are very similar to what was developed for the Spirit of Innovation.”
Tim Woolmer, Chief Technology Officer of YASA, which made the motors for the Spirit of Innovation, says, “Electric flight is set to be as transformative for mobility as the jet engine was 70 years ago. It’s thrilling to see our ultra-high performance, super-low weight electric motors powering the ‘Spirit of Innovation’ to these great speeds, and to know that collaborative projects like ACCEL take us one step closer to emissions-free electric flight becoming a commercial reality for all.”
So what happens now? Rolls-Royce plans to take the lesson learned in the Spirit of Innovation project and apply them to electric passenger airplanes, which will likely be small, short range aircraft, at least initially. But Rolls-Royce is doing important work with this project. As the folks as Gizmodo said, “Considering the hundreds of private jets that descended upon COP 26 in the ultimate showing of irony and hypocrisy, it’s clear the world has a private jet problem, which we all end up suffering for. If aircraft like the Spirit of Innovation prove viable, our planet will be better for it, especially if the technology can be adapted for larger commercial aircraft as well.”
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