Rolls-Royce powers up electric aircraft ahead of world record attempt

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Rolls-Royce has completed the first taxiing of its Spirit of Innovation aircraft ahead of its first flight and an attempt to break the world record for the fastest electric airplane later this year.

The airplane travelled along a runway driven by its 500hp (400kw) electric powertrain for the first time last month. Taxiing is a critical test of the integration of the aircraft’s propulsion system, ahead of flight testing. 

Rolls-Royce plans to set the world record for the fastest electric aircraft in the world by achieving a target speed of more than 300mph (480km/h) early next year.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the fastest electric aircraft in the world is the Extra 330LE, which during a flight on 23 March 2017 in Germany reached a top speed of 213mph (342km/h).

As well as Rolls-Royce technology, the Spirit of Innovation technology demonstrator uses electric motors and controllers from YASA and aviation startup Electroflight. It is being developed as part of the £6.37 million (US$9 million) ACCEL (accelerating the electrification of flight) research program, which is being part funded by the UK Government.

Rob Watson, director of Rolls-Royce Electrical said, “Taxiing of the Spirit of Innovation is an incredible milestone for the ACCEL team as we progress to the first flight and the world record attempt. 

“For the first time, the airplane propelled itself forward using the power from a battery and propulsion system that is ground-breaking in terms of electrical technology.”

Ground testing of the Spirit of Innovation was completed last September after nine months, during which time the propeller was run up to full speed, around 2,400 rpm, using what Rolls-Royce says is the most power-dense battery pack ever assembled for aircraft propulsion. Over 6,000 cells are packaged into the demonstrator’s battery pack.

As part of the program, Rolls-Royce engineers first developed a full-scale replica of the plane’s core in a test airframe they called ionBird.

Rolls-Royce hopes that the developments made for the Spirit of Innovation’s electric powertrain and battery system will be used in the company’s future range of motors, power electronics and batteries for the general aerospace, urban air mobility and small commuter aircraft sectors. \\

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before eventually becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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