Rolls-Royce’s All-Electric ‘Spirit of Innovation’ Takes First Flight

Rolls-Royce is celebrating the first flight of its all-electric “Spirit of Innovation” aircraft.

It took flight Wednesday, powered by a 400kW electric powertrain with “the most power-dense battery pack ever assembled for an aircraft.” The aircraft is the product of Rolls-Royce’s Accelerating the Electrification of Flight (ACCEL) program, aiming to create the world’s fastest zero-emission plane.

Taking off from the UK Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down site in Wiltshire, England, the aircraft flew for a total of 15 minutes, beginning a rigorous flight-testing phase where developers will be recording and analyzing performance data on its electric and propulsion systems.

“The first flight of the ‘Spirit of Innovation’ is a great achievement for the ACCEL team and Rolls-Royce,” said Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East in a statement Wednesday. “We are focused on producing the technology breakthroughs society needs to decarbonize transport across air, land, and sea, and capture the economic opportunity of the transition to net-zero.

“This is not only about breaking a world record; the advanced battery and propulsion technology developed for this programme has exciting applications for the Urban Air Mobility market and can help make ‘jet zero’ a reality,” East said.

According to Rolls-Royce, the small plane is packed with 6,000 battery cells, accompanied by an advanced direct cooling system. The ACCEL team aims to deliver more than 500 horsepower in order to break the world record for speed.

Half of ACCEL’s funding is made by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), alongside the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Innovate UK. This partnership is supporting efforts to shift commercial aircraft to a hybrid electric fleet, ultimately reducing the carbon footprint of the commercial airline industry.

“The first flight of the Spirit of Innovation demonstrates how innovative technology can provide solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges,” said Aerospace Technology Institute CEO Gary Elliot.

“The ATI is funding projects like ACCEL to help the U.K. develop new capabilities and secure a lead in the technologies that will decarbonize aviation. We congratulate everyone who has worked on the ACCEL project to make the first flight a reality and look forward to the world speed record attempt which will capture the imagination of the public in the year that the UK hosts COP26.”

Rolls-Royce reaffirmed its commitment to the UN Race to Zero campaign by developing all its new products to have net-zero emissions by 2030, with all products reaching net-zero by 2050.

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