Rolls-Royce, best known in aviation for its jet engines, made its maiden voyage in an all-electric aircraft. The “Spirit of Innovation” completed a 15-minute flight, marking “the start of an intensive flight test phase during which we will collect valuable performance data on the power supply and propulsion system of the plane, ”the company said.
Rolls Royce said the single-seater aircraft has “the most powerful battery ever assembled for an aircraft.” The aircraft uses a 6,000-cell battery with a three-engine powertrain that currently delivers 400 kW (over 500 horsepower), and Rolls-Royce has said the aircraft will eventually reach speeds of over 300 MPH.
The flight took place about a year after the initially planned take-off and about six months after the taxiing tests. Rolls-Royce is also developing an air taxi with manufacturer Tecnam, with the aim of delivering an “all-electric passenger plane for the commuter market,” according to the companies. It has already teamed up with Siemens and Airbus on another concept of electric aircraft.
Aviation companies have been exploring electric planes for a number of years, as air travel and freight are responsible for an increasing amount of greenhouse gases. The World Wildlife Foundation has called it “currently the most carbon intensive activity an individual can do.”
However, weight is a much bigger issue for airplanes than for cars. Ford’s all-electric Lightning pickup weighs 1,800 pounds more than the gasoline model and offers just under half the range. However, if you added 1,800 pounds to a Cessna 206 Turbo Stationair, you would exceed its 500-pound payload before you even loaded any passengers (or the pilot) – so it wouldn’t even take off from the ground.
The project was half-funded by the Aerospace Technology Institute and the British government, with the goal of eventually creating all-electric passenger planes. “It’s not just about breaking a world record; the advanced battery and propulsion technology developed for this program has exciting applications for the urban air mobility market and can help make ‘jet zero’ a reality, ”said Warren East, CEO of Rolls-Royce.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.