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Rolls Royce aim for airspeed record with electric plane

03/01/2019
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A team led by Rolls Royce are developing an electric aeroplane that they hope will be the fastest ever. 

The ACCEL is a project by Rolls Royce to develop the world's fastest electric aeroplane
(Image via Rolls Royce)

The project is named ACCEL (Accelerating the Electrification of Flight) and involves a zero-emission single seat propeller aircraft, expected to have a top speed of over 300mph. 

The current world record for an electric aeroplane is 210mph and was set by Siemens in 2017. Rolls Royce are working alongside electric motor and controller manufacturer YASA and aviation start-up Electroflight, with partial funding by the British Government, with the aim to beat this record in 2020.

“This plane will be powered by a state-of-the-art electrical system and the most powerful battery ever built for flight,” said project lead Matheu Parr.

“In the year ahead, we’re going to demonstrate its abilities in demanding test environments before going for gold in 2020 from a landing strip on the Welsh coastline.”

The ACCEL plane is expected to reach speeds over 300mph with a range of 200 miles
(Image via Rolls Royce)

Currently the project is based in a hangar at Gloucestershire airport, where a team of engineers, designers and data specialists are combining their expertise. But with a planned range of 200 miles, the plane could soon be making trips as far as Paris on a single charge.

The engineers are using expertise and experience gained from the world of Formula E to be able to increase the speed of the plane and the power of the engines. 

The key concept is to develop a battery that is not only big enough, but can be light enough and compact enough to be installed in a stable airframe and will not overheat. To accomplish this, the team are developing a battery pack of 6,000 cells that they claim will be the most energy-dense ever installed on an aircraft.

The powertrain will have a maximum output of 750 volts with over 90% efficiency. It will feed into three 750R electric motors, generating a total of 500 horsepower. The single propeller consists of three electrically-actuated blades that operate at 2,400 rpm to create a more stable ride. 

To keep the battery cool, an Active Thermal Management System Cooling radiator will be installed.

The battery of the Rolls Royce ACCEL includes 6,000 cells with a maximum output of 750 volts. It's monitored by 20,000 datapoints per second for optimal performance
(ACCEL powertrain with cooling system and data points- image via Rolls Royce)

The development is utilising big data techniques to optimise safety and performance. 20,000 data points throughout the powertrain, cooling system and motors help the engineers monitor every aspect of the project and ensure no part of it is underperforming. 

“We’re monitoring more than 20,000 data points per second, measuring battery voltage, temperature, and overall health of the powertrain, which is responsible for powering the propellers and generating thrust,” said Parr.

“We’ve already drawn a series of insights from the unique design and integration challenges. And we’re gaining the knowhow to not only pioneer the field of electric-powered, zero-emissions aviation - but to lead it.”

Once they’ve broken the speed record for an all-electric plane, the team have their sites on an even greater goal. Smashing the speed record set by Rolls Royce’s Supermarine S.6B, the plane that became the design inspiration for the Spitfire and won the prestigious Schneider Trophy in 1931 by reaching 343mph.

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Rolls Royce aim for airspeed record with electric plane - Time to read 3 min
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