Electric aircraft ACCEL from Rolls Royce

Rolls-Royce – the world’s fastest electric plane

Jennifer Weitbrecht
11.01.2019
6 minutes

Things are progressing apace in e-plane research. In the southwest of England, Rolls-Royce is working with partners to develop a special electric aeroplane intended to put all previous speed records set by electric planes in the shade. The plane is due to be ready for takeoff in 2020.

Aiming to make history!

With its ACCEL project (short for Accelerating the Electrification of Flight), Rolls-Royce aims to support the promotion of electrification in aviation. If the project is successful, it will surely lend new impetus to e-mobility.

The project currently under development is a new type of completely electrically powered plane which produces no emissions. It is intended to reach speeds which no fully electric aircraft has previously reached. It is envisaged that it will be able to reach speeds of more than 480 km/h (more than 300 mph), far exceeding the current record. If everything goes according to plan, its record-breaking capabilities should be put to the test as soon as 2020, and it has been mooted that this is just an interim goal.

The current world record for electric planes

The current record for a purely electric aeroplane was set in March 2017 at the Dinslaken Schwarze Heide airport (Germany) by the Extra 300LE electric plane. This aircraft featured a Siemens electric power train, including the power electronics and the engine. It achieved a speed of 337.50 km/h (almost 210 mph) over a distance of 3 kilometres. More information is included in this article and in the video below.

Who’s involved in the ACCEL project?

The innovative project is being led by Rolls-Royce at the Gloucestershire regional airport in southwest England. Also involved are the Electroflight aviation startup and the e-engine specialist YASA, a company which has already made a name for itself in Formula E electric car racing. The ACCEL team comprises British engineers, designers and data specialists from Rolls-Royce, as well as external providers. The British government has also contributed funds to the project.

Facts and figures on the ACCEL single-seater electric plane

Battery

The lithium-ion battery pack is the heart of the plane and comprises 6,000 cells. According to Rolls-Royce, it has the highest energy density ever used in an aeroplane. On a single charge, the battery produces enough energy to propel the plane around 320 kilometres (200 miles, or the distance from London to Paris) – with no emissions.

According to Rolls-Royce, the battery and heat management are the most critical points. As well as being powerful enough to beat a variety of speed and performance records, the battery must also be resistant to overheating, as well as light enough and stable in construction to be stowed in the small (just under 7 metres long) plane.

ACCEL project manager Matheu Parr is confident that the team will be able to overcome this obstacle: “The plane will contain a state-of-the-art electrical system and the most powerful battery that has ever been constructed for an aircraft. Over the next year, we will put ACCEL through its paces in comprehensive tests – and go for gold on the Welsh coast in 2020!”

Engine and propellers

The electrically adjustable three-bladed propeller is driven by three particularly powerful 750R-E electric motors manufactured in the UK by YASA. The blades turn with a considerably lower rotation speed than those of conventional aircraft, enabling stabler, much quieter flight. With around 2400 revolutions per minute, the propeller drives the plane forward, outputting consistently more than 500 HP for the record attempt.

Power train

The plane’s power train is also made by YASA. It is completely electric and is – just like a Formula E car – driven by 750-volt current. It is 90 percent energy efficient and produces no emissions.

Big data

During the flight, data is collected at more than 20,000 points every second. This information is used to optimise the plane’s safety and performance. Metrics measured include battery voltage, temperature and the overall condition of the power train. This is responsible for driving the propellers and generating thrust.

“We’ve already made a whole range of discoveries from the unique design and integration challenges we’ve experienced,” says Parr. “And we’re gaining the knowledge we need not only to perform pioneering work in the field of electric, emission-free aviation, but also to lead these projects. At the moment our confidence is sky-high.”

A detailed view of the electric plane can be viewed here in the official Rolls–Royce brochure. Visuals can also be seen in the following video:

Previous Rolls-Royce records

Rolls-Royce has achieved previous comparable victories in the past. It was, for example, significantly involved in Great Britain’s victory in the prestigious Schneider Trophy in 1931. This success propelled the company to a leading position in the aerospace industry.

The British racing plane Supermarine S.6B set the record back then. It was powered by a Rolls-Royce R engine and achieved a maximum speed of 343 miles per hour on the day of the record. Parr and his team are, therefore, aiming to beat both the Siemens record and the Supermarine one. Here at WingMag, we’re crossing our fingers!

Would you like to read more about current developments in electric aviation? How about this article on easyJet offering electric flights from 2019? Or this one, on the latest research being carried out by the Deutschen Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR, German Aerospace Center) into electrically powered nose-wheels?

Photo and copyright © Rolls-Royce

by Jennifer Weitbrecht

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