British automotive and aerospace giant Rolls Royce is embracing the electric age with plans to create the world’s fastest all-electric plane – and it hopes to launch it into the airspace as soon as next year.
The car maker says it expects the high performance electric plane – which it is developing in collaboration with British motor company YASA, the Aerospace Technology Institute and aviation startup Electroflight – will be able to reach speeds of at least 480km per hour (300 miles/hr).
If successful, the flight speed would put the electric aircraft in the record books as the fastest electric plane ever, beating hands down the current record holder for electric plane flight.
That was set in April 2017 by an Extra 330LE electric plane powered by a 260kW Siemens motor and travelling at 337.5km/hr (in the category of planes weighing less than 1,000 kilograms).
The project is dubbed Accel (Accelerating the Electrification of Flight), and Matheu Parr, Accel’s project manager says on the Rolls Royce website that the speed will be possible thanks to a state-of-the-art electrical system and “the most powerful battery ever built for flight”.
The Rolls Royce Accel team are planning the “most energy-dense battery pack ever assembled for an aircraft” with 6,000 cells, which it says will enable the specially designed racing aircraft to fly 360km from London to Paris without stopping.
Three lightweight, high-powered 750R electric motors made by YASA will deliver 200kW of power and 790Nm maximum torque to the all-electric 750 volt powertrain.
2019 will see the Accel team test the aircraft, monitoring the system using big data to get detailed insights.
“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,” Parr said in a statement.
“We’re monitoring more than 20,000 data points per second, measuring battery voltage, temperature, and overall health of the power train, which is responsible for powering the propellers and generating thrust. We’ve already drawn a series of insights from the unique design and integration challenges,” says Parr.
“And we’re gaining the know-how to not only pioneer the field of electric-powered, zero-emissions aviation – but to lead it. At this point, our confidence is sky high.”
2019 will certainly be a year for watching developments in electric flight – Israeli-based startup Eviation could give Rolls Royce a run for its money with plans to launch its Alice electric aircraft this year at the Paris Air Show.
While Alice won’t make it in the same category as the Rolls Royce Accel – she comes in at 6,350kg maximum takeoff weight – Eviation says the 9-seater aircraft will also have a cruising speed of 260 knots, or 480km/hr.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.