Rolls-Royce’s all-electric Spirit of Innovation takes flight for the first time

Rolls-Royce has completed the first flight of its all-electric ‘Spirit of Innovation’ aircraft intended for a world speed record attempt. The aircraft took off from the U.K. Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down site, which is managed by QinetiQ, and flew for approximately 15 minutes.

The company said in a statement the first flight of Spirit of Innovation aircraft marks “the beginning of an intense flight-testing phase” that would involve the collection of “valuable performance data on the aircraft’s electrical power and propulsion system.”

The airplane utilized a powerful 400 kW (500+ hp) electric powertrain with the most power-dense battery pack ever assembled for an aircraft. At full power, the “Spirit of Innovation” should reach speeds of over 300 mph (480 km/h).

The first flight is another step towards the plane’s world-record attempt.
The first flight is another step towards the plane’s world-record attempt. Credit: Rolls-Royce

The first flight of Rolls-Royce’s revolutionary Spirit of Innovation aircraft signals a huge step forward in the global transition to cleaner forms of flight. This achievement, and the records we hope will follow, shows the U.K. remains right at the forefront of aerospace innovation,” said Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.

The electric aircraft is the result of a program called ACCEL, or Accelerating the Electrification of Flight, which includes key partners YASA, the electric motor and controller manufacturer, and aviation start-up Electroflight. The project is half funded by the Aerospace Technology Institute in partnership with the U.K. government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Innovate U.K.

The first flight of the Spirit of Innovation demonstrates how innovative technology can provide solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges,” said Gary Elliott, CEO, Aerospace Technology Institute. “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 U.K. hosts COP26.

In addition, Rolls-Royce and the aircraft manufacturer Tecnam are currently working with Widerøe, Scandinavia’s largest regional airline, to deliver a fully electric passenger plane for the shuttle market, which is expected to be ready for paid service in 2026.

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