Rolls-Royce is well-known for its plush cars with infinite refinements. It is not generally known for its electric ventures. The company has dipped its fingers in autonomous electric ferries, as well as an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft concept. So why not the world’s fastest electric airplane?
Red Bull Air Race, we’ve been ready and dearly waiting for electric plane races that would make for a sensational addition to your thrilling air races. Perhaps Rolls-Royce can jump-start e-plane racing. [Editor’s note: Rolls Royce is an aerospace, power and defense company, and is not associated with Rolls-Royce Motors; an automotive brand owned by BMW.]
According to Flying Magazine, Rolls-Royce is working on another electric project that takes to the sky in its Gloucestershire airport in South West England. Its Accelerating the Electrification of Flight (ACCEL) project seeks to explore the high-power electrical system for demonstrator aircraft. With the same token, Rolls Royce wants to build and fly the world’s fastest e-plane.
Technically, this is a joint venture with the UK government, Rolls-Royce, the British electric motor maker YASA, and Electroflight Ltd. Rolls-Royce wants to leverage Yasa’s high-power, lightweight electric motors for aerospace by simply making the world’s fastest e-plane. Electroflight’s expertise lies with high-performance electric powertrains and energy storage systems, which leads me to think the aircraft will have the capacity to recoup energy when decelerating?
Performance wise, the e-plane is expected to reach 300 mph (261 knots, 483 km/h). The press release hints that the e-plane could reach higher speeds, “quite likely more.” It will take to the skies in Great Britain by 2020. Unfortunately, all we know is that the aircraft will use 6,000 battery cells and will have a 200-mile range, enough for a London to Paris flight (214 miles).
According to Matheu Parr, ACCEL Project Manager for Rolls-Royce:
“This plane will be powered by a state-of-the-art electrical system and the most powerful battery ever built for flight. In the year ahead, we’re going to demonstrate its abilities in demanding test environments before going for gold in 2020 from a landing strip on the Welsh coastline.”
Rolls-Royce Pursues Electric Air Mobility
According to Rolls-Royce’s press release, the high-performance e-plane will be unlike anything the world has ever seen. And Rolls-Royce is quick to highlight its venerable aerospace achievements. It won the Schneider Trophy in 1931, which started its aerospace career. The British racing seaplane, known as the Supermarine S.6B, established a speed record at 343 mph. The current e-plane record was set by Siemens at 210 mph in 2017. Parr and his team hint that: “and they even have their eyes on the Supermarine record.”
The challenges that need to be overcome are obvious. Design and build a battery powerful enough to beat a series of speed and performance records. It has to be light enough for flight and not overheat. For this, Parr says:
“We’re monitoring more than 20,000 data points per second, measuring battery voltage, temperature, and overall health of the powertrain, which is responsible for powering the propellers and generating thrust.”
Rolls-Royce seems committed to the electrification of air travel. The company is well known for its jet engines, found on many airliners today. It makes sense to move into the electrification of aviation. Indeed, in a previous press release, Rob Watson, Director of Electrical, Rolls-Royce: “The increased use of electrical systems is an inescapable trend in our markets and championing electrification is a core part of our long-term strategy at Rolls-Royce.”
So, Red Bull Air Race, ready for electric airplanes? We are.