Covid-19 casts doubt on future UltraFan engine development at Rolls-Royce

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Rolls-Royce has confirmed it is to complete ground testing of its next generation UltraFan engine in Derby, UK, but that the timing of its development will then be subject to market requirements.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East said that engineers would complete testing an UltraFan demonstrator as planned in 2022, but that afterwards the project will be “on ice” until the market is ready for it.

UltraFan is a geared-turbofan engine that uses new materials and a variable pitch fan system that Rolls-Royce says enables improved fuel efficiency of up to 25% compared to the company’s first-generation Trent engine.

According to reports Rolls-Royce has invested around £500 million (US$680 million) so far into the UltraFan engine’s development. Parts of UltraFan have already been developed and tested at various Rolls-Royce sites, such as its all-composite Advanced Low Pressure system (ALPS) and the Advanced Low Emissions Combustion System (ALECSys).

A fully integrated UltraFan demonstrator will undergo ground testing at Rolls-Royce’s Derby site.

Rolls-Royce had previously said it was aiming for UltraFan to be in service after 2025. However, Covid-19 has meant aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing and Airbus have cut production rates and much uncertainty still exists about the nature and pace of recovery once the pandemic subsides.

Rolls-Royce said, “We have always said that the eventual timing of UltraFan’s entry into service will be dependent on aircraft manufacturers’ requirements.

“We remain committed to having a product available to the market at the turn of the decade, but in the post-testing phase we will continue to monitor customer requirements going forward, particularly given the impact of Covid-19. If this requires us to re-phase the program then we will do so.

“The programme is not being frozen, we have multiple development programs in progress and we remain committed to their ongoing success.”

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering almost all aspects of 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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