WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Future aircraft will be powered by “greener” fuels, from ammonia and electricity to hydrogen, and their rate of development is accelerating – literally.
The aviation industry is one of the world’s most polluting industries which is why its future will be dominated by zero emission aircraft like NASA’s electric X Plane, powered by everything from ammonia, biofuels, friction, and hydrogen to plain old electric battery power. And now, as the race to become the Tesla of the skies heats up an electric aircraft developed by Rolls Royce to smash the speed record for an all-electric plane looks to have done just that, within just three years of first being announced.
The Spirit of Innovation took to the skies at a UK Ministry of Defence testing site last week where it reached a maximum speed of 623 km/h (387.4 mph), which Rolls Royce says not only makes it the fastest electric aircraft, but the world’s fastest electric vehicle of any kind.
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From the outset, the Spirit of Innovation was built from the ground up to become the world’s fastest electric airplane, taking aim at the 210 mph (338 km/h) set by Siemens in 2017. The aircraft is propelled by a 500 hp (400-kW) all-electric powertrain and battery pack of 6,000 cells, described as the most energy-dense ever integrated into an aircraft.
The Spirit of Innovation completed its first taxi tests back in March, and then flew for the first time in September, completing a 15 minute flight and kicking off a more advanced testing phase. The latest outing again took place at the UK Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down experimental aircraft testing site, and culminated in a trio of world records, according to Rolls Royce.
See the plane in action!
This includes climbing to an altitude of 3,000 m (9,840 ft) in 202 seconds, breaking the previous record by 60 seconds, reaching a top speed of 555.9 km/h (345.4 mph) over 3 km (1.9 miles), and achieving a top speed of 532.1 km/h (330 mph) over 15 km (9.3 miles). These three world record claims have been submitted to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale for official certification, but the aircraft is said to have also been clocked at 623 km/h (387.4 mph) during these runs, faster than any electric vehicle on the planet, according to Rolls Royce.
“Flying the ‘Spirit of Innovation’ at these incredible speeds and believing we have broken the world record for all-electric flight is a momentous occasion,” says test pilot Phill O’Dell. “This is the highlight of my career and is an incredible achievement for the whole team. The opportunity to be at the forefront of another pioneering chapter of Rolls Royce’s story as we look to deliver the future of aviation is what dreams are made of.”
The video above shows the Spirit of Innovation in action during its latest outings.