Rolls-Royce Spirit of Innovation

Rolls-Royce stakes claim to EV speed record with electric plane

Image credit: John M Dibbs for Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce has stated it believes its “Spirit of Innovation” aircraft is the world’s fastest electric aircraft, having broken three flight speed records.

According to the company, the awkwardly named aircraft reached a top speed of 623km/h (387.4 mph) during trial runs at an experimental aircraft testing site at the Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down experimental aircraft testing site in Wiltshire.

The speed was reached with director of flight operations Phill O’Dell in the cockpit.

“Flying the Spirit of Innovation at these incredible speeds and believing we have broken the world-record for all-electric flight is a momentous occasion,” said O’Dell. “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.”

Rolls-Royce believes it has set new records across three different distances: 555.9km/h (345.4 mph) over 3km, 532.1km/h (330 mph) over 15km, and climbing to 3km in altitude in just 202 seconds (a full 60 seconds faster than the incumbent record holder). In the company’s view, it is the world’s fastest all-electric vehicle.

It has submitted its figures to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (also known as the World Air Sports Federation). If the figures are confirmed, this would make the Spirit of Innovation more than213 km/h faster than the previous record, which was claimed in 2017 by Siemens eAircraft’s similarly poorly named Extra 330 LE Aerobatic aircraft. Rolls-Royce acquired Siemens eAircraft in 2019.

The Spirit of Innovation is powered with a 400kW electric powertrain. It also has “the most power-dense propulsion battery pack ever assembled in aerospace”, Rolls-Royce said, with enough power to charge 7,500 phones. It made its first flight just over one month ago. The company worked with energy storage specialist Electroflight and automotive powertrain supplier Yasa on the effort.

“Staking the claim for the all-electric world-speed record is a fantastic achievement […] the advanced battery and propulsion technology developed for this programme has exciting applications for the advanced air mobility market,” said Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East. “Following the world’s focus on the need for action at COP26, this is another milestone that will help make “jet zero” a reality and supports our ambitions to deliver the technology breakthroughs society needs to decarbonise transport across air, land, and sea.”

Stjohn Youngman, managing director at Electroflight, added: “Developing the propulsion and battery system, in collaboration with experienced programme partners, has resulted in a world-class engineering capability that will lead the way towards the decarbonisation of air travel. Our next step is to adapt this pioneering technology so it can be applied across the wider aerospace industry to deliver a more sustainable way to fly.”

The aircraft was built as part of the Accelerating the Electrification of Flight project, which is partly funded by the UK government via the Aerospace Technology Institute.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng commented: “Rolls-Royce’s revolutionary Spirit of Innovation aircraft is yet more proof of the UK’s enviable credentials when it comes to innovation. This record will show the potential of electric flight and help to unlock the technologies that could make it part of everyday life. The government is proud to back projects like this to leverage the private investment necessary to unlock cleaner, greener aircraft.”

In July, the government launched its transport decarbonisation plan, which includes consultations on pledges to end the sale of new polluting road vehicles by 2040 and reaching net-zero emissions for domestic flights by 2040.

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