Rolls-Royce has announced the completion of the first flight of their all-electric Spirit of Innovation aircraft. This is a step towards decarbonising transport in an effort to transition to net zero.
The plane took to the skies propelled by its powerful 400kW (500+hp) electric powertrain with the most power-dense battery pack ever assembled for an aircraft. This is another step towards the plane’s world-record attempt and another milestone on the aviation industry’s journey towards decarbonisation.
Warren East, CEO of Rolls-Royce, said: “The first flight of the Spirit of Innovation is a great achievement for the ACCEL team and Rolls-Royce. 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 market and can help make ‘jet zero’ a reality.”
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Business secretary at Rolls-Royce, Kwasi Kwarteng, said: “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. 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 aircraft took off from the UK Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down site, which is managed by QinetiQ and flew for approximately 15 minutes. The site has a long heritage of experimental flights and the first flight marks the beginning of an intense flight-testing phase in which the company will be collecting valuable performance data on the aircraft’s electrical power and propulsion system.
The ACCEL programme, short for Accelerating the Electrification of Flight includes key partners YASA, the electric motor and controller manufacturer, and aviation start-up Electroflight.
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. In the run-up to COP26, the ACCEL programme is further evidence of the UK’s position at the forefront of the zero-emission aircraft revolution.
“The first flight of the Spirit of Innovation demonstrates how innovative technology can provide solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges,” said Gary Elliott, CEO of the Aerospace Technology Institute. “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.”
In addition, Rolls-Royce and airframer Tecnam are currently working with Widerøe, the largest regional airline in Scandinavia, to deliver an all-electric passenger aircraft for the commuter market, which is planned to be ready for revenue service in 2026.
In June, the company announced its pathway to net zero carbon emissions, a year on from joining the UN Race to Zero campaign. According to the company, the Spirit of Innovation is one way in which they are helping decarbonise the critical parts of the global economy in which they operate. “We are committed to ensuring our new products will be compatible with net-zero operation by 2030 and all our products will be compatible with net zero by 2050.”