Rolls-Royce on track to test 300mph electric plane

Alan Tovey
·3-min read
Spirit of Innovation electric aeroplane
Spirit of Innovation electric aeroplane

Rolls-Royce is closing on its attempt to build the world’s fastest electric aeroplane, completing ground testing of the powertrain for the aircraft that aims to hit 300mph.

The full-scale replica of the 500 horsepower system has been run up to full speed of 2,400 revolutions per minute driven by a battery pack with enough energy to power 250 homes.

Rolls has continued work on the programme - called project ACCEL - despite its difficult financial position.

Coronavirus has caused demand for passenger flights to collapse, hammering the company which makes half of its £15bn annual revenues from civil aviation.

Shares have sunk 75pc since the start of the year to just 156p and dipped another 2.6pc on Thursday, valuing Rolls at just £3bn. 

In its battle to survive, the FTSE 100 company has announced 9,000 redundancies, some 15pc of its global workforce, along with tough cost-saving measures. 

The IonBird test rig running at full speed
The IonBird test rig running at full speed

Rolls is also preparing to raise up £2.5bn through equity and debt, along with a package of disposals it hopes will deliver a further £2bn to shore up its balance sheet. 

However, work on ACCEL - Accelerating the Electrification of Flight - has continued as the company believes electric aircraft will be key to its long-term future as the industry is forced by new regulations to go green.

The testbed has been nicknamed “ionbird”, a reference to the its electric power and aerospace’s history of building “ironbirds” that do not fly but are used to develop systems before taking to the air.

Rolls hopes the actual aircraft, named Spirit of Innovation, will make its first flight later this year with air speed record attempts early in 2021.

Working with Rolls on the project are YASA, the electric motor and controller manufacturer, and aviation start-up Electroflight, and together they have together produced an aircraft which contains 6,000 individual cells.

Rob Watson, director of electrical at Rolls, said: “Rolls-Royce is committed to playing a leading role in reaching net zero carbon by 2050. The completion of ground-testing for the ACCEL project is a great achievement for the team and is another important step towards a world record attempt.

Markets Hub - Rolls Royce
Markets Hub - Rolls Royce

"This project is also helping to develop Rolls-Royce’s capabilities and ensure that we remain a leader in delivering the electrification of flight, an important part of our sustainability strategy.”

The project also has the backing of the Government, which this summer announced the Jet Zero initiative under which it set the goal of demonstrating flight across the Atlantic without harming the environment.

Business minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “The completion of ground-testing for the government-backed ACCEL project is not only a step towards an exciting world record attempt, but a leap towards developing all-electric and hybrid-electric planes that one day could ferry large numbers of passengers around the world.”

Earlier this week Airbus revealed designs for aircraft powered by hydrogen, as the pan-European aerospace giant looks to the future.