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Spirit of Innovation

Electric air speed record broken in Wiltshire skies

Aerospace giant Rolls-Royce has “smashed” the fastest all-electric flight world record in the skies above Wiltshire.

Its battery-powered Spirit of Innovation plane reached 345.4mph over three kilometres after taking off from the Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down, near Amesbury, last week – smashing the previous record by by 132mph.

Rolls Royce said its plane also broke the record for 15 kilometres, achieving 330 mph, and for the fastest ascent to 3,000 metres in 202 seconds – breaking the previous record by exactly a minute.

During its record-breaking runs, the aircraft clocked up a maximum speed of 387.4 mph – which makes the Spirit of Innovation the world’s fastest all-electric vehicle.

The data has been submitted to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale – the World Air Sports Federation – for verification and certification.

Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East said: “Staking the claim for the all-electric world-speed record is a fantastic achievement for the ACCEL team and Rolls-Royce.

“I would like to thank our partners and especially Electroflight for their collaboration in achieving this pioneering breakthrough.

“The advanced battery and propulsion technology developed for this programme has exciting applications for the Advanced Air Mobility market. Following the world’s focus on the need for action at COP26, this is another milestone that will help make ‘jet zero’ a reality and supports our ambitions to deliver the technology breakthroughs society needs to decarbonise transport across air, land and sea.”

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Rolls-Royce’s revolutionary Spirit of Innovation aircraft is yet more proof of the UK’s enviable credentials when it comes to innovation.

“This record will show the potential of electric flight and help to unlock the technologies that could make it part of everyday life.

“The government is proud to back projects like this to leverage the private investment necessary to unlock cleaner, greener aircraft which will allow people to fly as they do now, but in a way that cuts emissions.”

The plane was flown over three kilometres by the project’s chief test pilot Phill O’Dell, who was in the Royal Air Force for 17 years. Steve Jones flew the aircraft for the 15km and the time to climb to 3,000 metres .

Phill O’Dell said: “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.

“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 plane was powered by a 400kW (500 hp) electric powertrain with the most power-dense battery pack ever assembled for an aircraft, Rolls-Royce said.

The technology for the plane was developed at Gloucestershire Airport by the ACCEL – or Accelerating the Electrification of Flight – programme, before moving to Wiltshire for the flight testing phase.

Partners include Oxford-based electric motor and controller manufacturer YASA and aviation start-up Electroflight in Gloucestershire.

Dr Tim Woolmer, YASA’s chief technology officer and founder said, “Electric flight is set to be as transformative for mobility as the jet engine was 70 years ago.

“It’s thrilling to see our ultra-high performance, super-low weight electric motors powering the ‘Spirit of Innovation’ to these great speeds, and to know that collaborative projects like ACCEL take us one step closer to emissions-free electric flight becoming a commercial reality for all.”