Rolls-Royce Electric Aircraft Becomes World’s Fastest

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Rolls-Royce’s “Spirit of Innovation” has officially become the world’s fastest all-electric aircraft with the recent confirmation of two speed records. Now verified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the aircraft was recorded at 555.9 km/h (345.4 MPH) over 3 kilometers (1.86 miles), 213.04 km/h (132 MPH) faster than the previous record-holder. It also completed a 15 kilometer (9.32 mile) run at an average speed of 532.1km/h (330 MPH), breaking the prior record by 292.8km/h (182 MPH).

“Achieving the all-electric world-speed record is a fantastic achievement for the ACCEL team and Rolls-Royce,” said Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East. “I would like to thank our partners and especially aviation start-up 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.”

The record-breaking runs were flown by Rolls-Royce test pilot and director of flight operations Phill O’Dell and Electroflight pilot Steve Jones on Nov. 16, 2021, at the U.K. Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down experimental aircraft testing site. A third record for the fastest time to climb to 3,000 meters, which Spirit of Innovation reportedly accomplished in 202 seconds, is awaiting verification. Part of Rolls-Royce’s Accelerating the Electrification of Flight (ACCEL) project, Spirit of Innovation is an electric version of the Nemesis NXT kit racing plane powered by a 400-kW electric powertrain.

Video: Rolls-Royce
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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21 COMMENTS

      • So it’s not really a very practical achievement.

        I think many people are very tired of this sort thing, and I’m getting there myself.

        There are actually useful electric aircraft I’d like to hear more about. Make a real replacement for a commonly used engine, and you have my attention. There ARE 50 and 80hp aircraft.

        Maybe we need an aviation raspberry award where these PR stunts get lambasted? Extra scorn for companies who use light aircraft for PR while doing nothing to defend private owners rights to fly unless they burn kerosene.

  1. Congrats to RR and also to Jon Sharp. RR could have never accomplished this without the Nemesis NXT. A well deserved “win” for this emerging technology and a confirmation of good old American ingenuity via Sharp Racing, the EAA, and homebuilding as a whole. I am sure there is still some speed left in E-Nemesis.

  2. So I, too, would like more of the “What?” and “How?”

    For example, how do these record breaking speeds compare to the conventional Nemesis?

    Since the writer didn’t provide any comparison, I had to duckduckgo it.

    “On July 30, 2008, Sharp set an FAI class C1b world record for speed over a straight 3 km course at 573.46 km/h (356.33 mph). On September 20, 2009, Sharp won the Super Sport Gold race at Reno with a speed of 407.061 mph. On Wednesday, September 16, 2009, Sharp qualified first with a speed of 412.554 mph for the top spot in the Super Sport class at Reno. On Thursday, September 17, 2009, Sharp set a Super Sport race record of 383.292 mph. On Friday, September 18, 2009, Sharp beat the previous day’s record with a speed of 399.336 mph. On Saturday, September 19, 2009, Sharp set another record with a speed of 406.051 mph. This is the first homebuilt aircraft ever to exceed 400 mph average race speed on the Reno course. On Sunday, September 20, 2009 Sharp set yet another record by winning the Super Sport Gold race at a speed of 407.061 mph.”

    So a Nemesis burning gasoline is capable of 400 mph, compared to this electric version’s 345 mph.

    Probably not apples to apples, since no one has told us the What. What kind of (How much) Horse Power are we talking about on the electric version?

    My main interest is curiosity: How much speed advantage can one gain from (virtually) no cooling drag? I have heard estimates that, even on clean aircraft, cooling drag is 20% of overall drag. Many Glasair builders made their inlets (and outlets) smaller, to reduce cooling drag. But I never noticed a marked speed difference with them. I’m curious if an all electric airplane can get a speed boost here.

    • “What kind of (How much) Horse Power are we talking about on the electric version?”

      The article says it’s “…powered by a 400-kW electric powertrain.”

      Running 400KW through a simple KW-to-HP calculator yields 536 HP. I don’t know if once can compare electric to gas engine power-output that directly. Some other questions I have are…
      …what is the weight difference between the gas-engine vs electric airplane?
      …was the electric engine limited in output due to engine, battery, electronics (cooling issues, current limitations, or…)?

    • “So a Nemesis burning gasoline is capable of 400 mph, compared to this electric version’s 345 mph.”
      Which begs the question, how how much horsepower was the piston engine version putting out during those record setting runs?

  3. It is not how fast but how long, especially in aircraft where there is both a constant substantial power demand and no local convenient filling station. All the above technical BS is meaningless with respect to practicality. Electric powered flight will never be more than an expensive game for elitists and fools with more money than sense until there is an energy storage breakthrough. Eventually there will probably be an energy storage breakthrough but until then don’t hold your breath and don’t open your wallet.

  4. Practicality? It’s about as practical as a Top-Fuel dragster. Face it, most record-setting attempts use ‘impractical’ vehicles. The “Spirit of St Louis” set a flying record but didn’t set any sales records. It was built to do one thing really well, but little else.

    I like the idea of electric aircraft. But the big hindrance, of course, is the fuel supply. In my lightly-informed opinion, batteries need to be a couple of orders of magnitude better to be truly practical. I’m not even sure a chemical battery will ever get there. The future may actually be some kind of Magic-Box-of-Electrons. Possibly as unimaginable as radioactivity was to Lord Kelvin. Just imagine *that* kind of future. Imagine what a cell-phone could be if over half of its mass didn’t have to be a battery? Then think bigger….

    While I won’t be investing my money in ‘impractical’ electric aircraft, I’m glad some people are and I like reading about the results.

  5. Electric aircraft will happen for one simple reason — the low cost of operation. I have a Chevy Bolt that has averaged 4.3 miles per kilowatt hour and I pay 11 cents per kilowatt hour. Do the math — it is 2.5 cents per mile. Total maintenance for 48,000 miles so far has been to replace the rear wipeElectric. It is also much more responsive than most IC cars and fun to drive.

    Bye Aerospace has a 2-place trainer and a 4-place plane in test and is building a 8-place prototype to compete with a King Air. They will have a usable range of 500 NM with the IFR reserve. They are projecting a seat mile cost of less than 1/4 that of a King Air. Yes, initially the King Air has more range but there are many trips that are less than 500 NM.

    Electric aircraft may not become commonplace as soon as some claim but it is going to happen and once proven with a much lower cost, there will be a tipping point and there will no going back. Also, the best lithium-ion batteries have about 260 kilowatt hours per kg. Lithium Sulfur is coming with more 900 kilowatt hours per kg. This will allow most short and medium-haul trips to go electric.

    • I hope you are correct about the future of electric flight, but let’s be fair. The cost of operation of your bolt should include the battery reserve. A Tesla owner recently blew his car up rather than pay $20k to replace the battery. And, btw, that maintenance record is only surprising to people who buy cars from below average manufacturers. I’ve hardly fixed anything on a car in twenty years that wasn’t regular maintenance. My current Volvo is almost to 100k. My last car that had an unscheduled repair was a Ford Explorer in the nineties which had a few too many trips for repair, and was the last UAW made car I purchased.

      I wonder how ICE aircraft could do if we could get a market for more innovation and with less lawyer tax.

    • Yes, it should have been watt hours/ kg and not kilowatt hours/ kg.

      I had 48,000 miles without any noticeable loss of battery capacity and now have a new battery courtesy of GM. Also a lot of battery life depends on how you charge the battery. Charging slower and not charging to 100% every time helps.

  6. Since this aircraft is not an air breather and will maintain the same power at altitude, and like any aircraft will go to higher ktas with altitude increase, why didn’t RR put it up to 20,000 ft and see what KTAS resulted?

    But we all know the answer. The batteries lasted only minutes.

    Another green promoted project with absolutely no possible practical application.

  7. I think maybe some of you are missing what I perceive as the goal. The demonstration of electric power performance. I see it as a stepping stone into endurance and efficiency. If one shows they can accomplish powerful speeds over set distances, adapting that into efficient endurance is the next step. Im no tree hugger, but I feel like electric cleaner versions, be it full or hybrid, will benefit the world on some level. Every company starts somewhere. I highly doubt RR is just flexing muscle here. This is a planned out progressive stepping stone into feasibility and practicality.

  8. My interest in electric motors is the safety factor which I define as lower probability of engine failure. Current opposing cylinder GA motors can fail at especially inopportune times, like takeoff. My hope is that electric motors will be less likely to do so. Another benefit of electrics is that they don’t carry lots of highly flammable fuel. And their operation doesn’t produce carbon monoxide. Allegedly, they are quieter and are without the vibration of reciprocating engines. Now if that darned battery problem could be solved, it would be a total win for GA.