LONDON (Reuters) – British engineering company Rolls-Royce gave a first look at a one-seater electric aircraft on Thursday it hopes will fly in late Spring next year and become the world’s fastest all-electric aircraft.
Growing concerns about climate change plus the recent spread of the “flight-shaming” movement on social media, and a promise by the aviation industry to cut carbon emissions, has made airlines hungry for progress on electric flying technology.
Aviation accounts for over 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions and passenger numbers are growing but zero-carbon, long-distance planes carrying hundreds of people are still decades away, aviation experts say.
Rolls-Royce unveiled the electric plane, which it is building with partners YASA and Electroflight and others and which will target a speed of over 300 miles per hour, at a hangar in Gloucestershire, western England.
The white plane has a blue trim and a bulging neck where its electric motor technology sits behind a propeller on its pointed nose.
Named ACCEL, the 6.5 million pound ($8.5 million) project will have the most power-dense battery pack ever assembled for an aircraft, Rolls-Royce said, providing enough fuel to fly 200 miles (320 km), or the distance between London and Paris, on a single charge.
Over the coming months, engineers will begin to integrate the electrical propulsion system into the airframe before a first flight by an experienced pilot in late Spring 2020 at a location yet to be decided, but possibly in the Welsh countryside.
Earlier this month in Canada, the world’s first fully electric commercial flight took off and flew for 15 minutes, but some attempts have been less successful and a battery-powered aircraft crash-landed in Norway in August.
Plane-makers Boeing and Airbus are both working on electric planes, say experts, while Rolls-Royce bought Siemens eAircraft, a developer of electric and hybrid-electric propulsion systems for planes, in June.
Reporting by Sarah Young; editing by Stephen Addison