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Rolls-Royce to push the boundaries of all-electric flight research

Rolls-Royce has welcomed funding from the UK Government which will enable it, together with new partner YASA, to carry out ground-breaking research aimed at accelerating the adoption of all-electric propulsion in aviation.

Rolls-Royce is leading a research project known as Accelerating the Electrification of Flight to explore the use of a high power electrical system in a demonstrator aircraft. Th company is working with YASA (UK), a manufacturer of high-power, lightweight electric motors and controllers used in automotive, aerospace and industrial applications. Drawing on Rolls-Royce’s expertise in aviation design and safety, the project aims to flight test the system to gain a detailed understanding of the potential for electric flight. Rolls-Royce will be supported by Electroflight Ltd (UK), specialists in high-performance electric powertrains including energy storage systems.

Rob Watson, Director of Electrical, Rolls-Royce said: “We are delighted to be leading this research partnership. We are already investigating the potential of hybrid-electric propulsion, building on our existing expertise in applications such as hybrid trains and gas turbine-powered naval vessels, but this funding from the UK Government will enable us to explore the potential of all-electric flight.

“The increased use of electrical systems is an inescapable trend in our markets and championing electrification is a core part of our long-term strategy at Rolls-Royce.”

Chris Harris, CEO, YASA said: “We’re excited to be working with Rolls-Royce on integrating our high-power, lightweight electric motors into a pure electric demonstrator aircraft. Thanks to our innovative axial-flux design, YASA can deliver the smallest, lightest electric motors for a given power and torque – opening up new and exciting opportunities for electrification in aerospace.”

Roger Targett, Managing Director, Electroflight said: We are delighted to be supporting Rolls-Royce with an integrated electric powertrain including an innovative energy storage solution. Our team comprises leading experts in electrification from the motorsport and automotive sector to assist our partners to accelerate the evolution of electric aircraft.”

Rolls-Royce is already exploring hybrid-electric propulsion – using a gas turbine engine as a generator to power an electric fan – for regional commercial aircraft through the E-Fan X demonstrator programme with Airbus and Siemens, announced last year. At the Farnborough International Airshow, Rolls-Royce is also showcasing a hybrid electric vertical take-off and landing (EVTOL) vehicle concept which could be adapted for personal transport, public transport, logistics and even military applications and take to the skies as soon as the early 2020s.