Rolls-Royce champions electrification

Design — 30.10.18 BY Jill Stockbridge
 

This new class of vehicles holds the promise to transform personal travel, speed up supply chains and usher in an era of more sustainable cities.

There is a growing groundswell of interest in electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles, or eVTOLs, by both established aviation companies and well-known automotive manufacturers. Rolls-Royce, proven experts in both fields, unveiled its concept aircraft in July.

Over the next decade the skies above us could see the arrival of a new generation of increasingly cleaner and quieter aircraft capable of transporting people and goods within the urban environment. Sometimes referred to as Air Taxis, both manned and unmanned electric aircraft are in varying stages of development all over the world. From the A3 by Airbus to Zee Aero’s Z-P2, this is a crowded new frontier, with a wide variety of designs moving from drawing board to physical testing.

This new class of vehicles holds the promise to transform personal travel, speed up supply chains and usher in an era of more sustainable cities – not to mention opening up the potential of spectacular new airframe designs, from multiple rotors to jets.

The concept unveiled by Rolls-Royce at the Farnborough International Airshow 2018 is one that could be adapted for personal transport, public transport, logistics and military applications. As it is based on technologies that already exist or are currently under development, the company predicts that it could take to the skies as soon as the early 2020s.

 

 
 
 

The Rolls-Royce eVTOL project is part of the company’s strategy to ‘champion electrification’ and realise its ambition to become the world’s leading industrial technology company. It is built on the experience gained providing hybrid electric propulsion for trains, naval vessels and other applications, and the company’s wider expertise in gas turbines, VTOL technology, systems analytics and aerospace regulation and certification. Rolls-Royce stated that they would expect any commercial introduction of the eVTOL to involve working in collaboration with airframe makers and would seek a range of strategic partners for aspects of the electrical system.

Rolls-Royce has a strong track record as pioneers in aviation. From developing the first turbo-prop and jet engines, to creating the world’s most efficient large civil aero-engine and vertical take-off and landing solutions, we have a very strong pedigree. ~Rob Watson

The initial concept vehicle uses gas turbine technology to generate electricity to power six electric propulsors specially designed to have a low noise profile. It also has a battery for energy storage. In this hybrid-eVTOL configuration it could carry four or five passengers at speeds up to 250mph for approximately 500 miles, would not require recharging – as the battery is charged by the gas turbine – and would be able to use existing aviation infrastructure such as heliports and airports.

A spokesperson said: “We believe that given the work we are doing today to develop hybrid electric propulsion capabilities, this model could be available by the early to mid 2020s, provided that a viable commercial model for its introduction can be created.

 
 

“The wings are able to rotate 90 degrees, enabling the vehicle to take off or land vertically. The propellers on the wing could fold away once the craft has reached cruising height, reducing drag and cabin noise, with the craft relying upon the two rear propellers for thrust.”

Rob Watson, who heads up Rolls-Royce’s Electrical team, said: “Electrification is an exciting and inescapable trend across industrial technology markets and while the move to more electric propulsion will be gradual for us, it will ultimately be a revolution. Building on our existing expertise in electric technologies and aviation, Rolls-Royce is actively exploring a range of possible markets and applications for electric and hybrid electric flight. We are well placed to play a leading role in the emerging world of personal air mobility and will also look to work in collaboration with a range of partners.

The concept unveiled by Rolls-Royce at the Farnborough International Airshow 2018 is one that could be adapted for personal transport, public transport, logistics and military applications.

“Rolls-Royce has a strong track record as pioneers in aviation. From developing the first turbo-prop and jet engines, to creating the world’s most efficient large civil aero-engine and vertical take-off and landing solutions, we have a very strong pedigree. As the third generation of aviation begins to dawn, it’s time to be pioneers yet again,” he added.

The initial Rolls-Royce eVTOL concept uses an M250 gas turbine, which is embedded within the rear of the aircraft and modified as part of a hybrid electric propulsion system. The M250 is a highly successful Rolls-Royce engine. Over 31,000 have been delivered since the first version entered service over half a century ago, with an estimated 16,000 currently in service. It has powered more than 170 different helicopter and fixed wing civil and military applications and the whole fleet has clocked up more than 250 million flying hours.

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