Rolls-Royce, best known in aviation for its jet engines, has taken an all-electric airplane on its maiden voyage. The "Spirit of Innovation" completed a 15 minute flight, marking "the beginning of an intensive flight-testing phase in which we will be collecting valuable performance data on the aircraft’s electrical power and propulsion system," the company announced.
Rolls Royce said the one-seat airplane has "the most power-dense battery pack every assembled for an aircraft." The aircraft uses a 6,000 cell battery pack with a three-motor powertrain that currently delivers 400kW (500-plus horsepower), and Rolls-Royce said the aircraft will eventually achieve speeds of over 300 MPH.
The flight comes about a year after the originally scheduled takeoff and about six months after taxi trials. Rolls-Royce is also developing an air taxi with manufacturer Tecnam, with the aim of delivering an "all-electric passenger aircraft for the commuter market," according to the companies. It has previously teamed with Siemens and Airbus on another e-plane concept.
Aircraft companies have been exploring electric airplanes for a number of years, as air travel and cargo accounts for an increasing amount of greenhouse gases. The World Wildlife Foundation has called it "currently the most carbon intensive activity an individual can make."
Weight is a much bigger problem for airplanes that it is for cars, however. Ford's all-electric Lightning pickup weighs 1,800 pounds more than the gas-powered model, and offers a range that's slightly under half. However, if you added 1,800 pounds to to a Cessna 206 Turbo Stationair, you'd exceed its useful load by 500 pounds before you even loaded passengers (or the pilot) — so it wouldn't even get off the ground.
The project was half funded by the Aerospace Technology Institute and UK government, with the aim of eventually creating all-electric passenger planes. "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," said Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East.