When most people think of Rolls-Royce, they think of ultra-luxury cars, not airplanes.
But a separate Rolls-Royce, spun off of the automaker in 1971, makes aircraft engines. And that company plans to go electric in tackling the world speed record for electric airplanes. To borrow a famous phrase from the automaker, if "horsepower is sufficient."
The company has built an all new airplane called ACCEL—"accelerating electrification of flight"—to tackle the speed record attempt sometime in 2020.
The ACCEL project is part of a European Commission effort to clean up emissions from air travel by 2050. The plane, and the record attempt are part of a movement expanding electric-car technologies to the skies, including electrifying helicopters and entire airlines. Long haul flight is likely to take longer for electrification to take over.
Looking like a contender in the Reno air races, the ACCEL will use three electric motors that produce a combined 500 horsepower.
They drive a low-rpm propeller designed to reduce noise and vibration. Rolls-Royce says the powertrain is 90 percent efficient. The motors and controller are made by YASA and Rolls is working with a startup electric aircraft maker Electroflight for the record attempt.
Powering the motor is a 750-volt battery pack with 6,000 cells and liquid cooling designed to withstand constant maximum loads during the record attempt. Rolls-Royce did not cite its kilowatt-hour capacity.
Rolls-Royce doesn't just want to beat the speed record for electric flight of 210 mph, set by Siemens in 2017, it aims to shatter it. The company hopes the ACCEL will top 300 mph after it takes off on its record attempt at Gloucestershire airport outside of Cheltenham, England next year.
In the meantime, the company will conduct flight trials throughout this year working up to the speed record.
And it may end up breaking another record of its own—the 1931 Schneider Trophy, set by a Supermarine S.6B that used a Rolls-Royce "R" engine to go 343 mph.