Rolls-Royce has identified the market for military elementary trainers as one of the first commercial applications for technologies being matured as part of a bid to break the speed record for an all-electric aircraft.
That initiative, project ACCEL, has seen R-R and its partners modify a Sharp Nemesis NXT air racer – named Spirit of Innovation – installing a 400kW electric powertrain in place of the stock combustion engine as they target a speed of 300mph (260kt/482km/h). While delayed several times, the first flight and subsequent record attempt are still scheduled for this year.
But speaking during a pre-DSEI media briefing on 9 September, Dave Gordon, senior vice-president of its UK defence business, said that R-R sees the “elementary trainer environment” as offering a strong opportunity for an all-electric aircraft based on the systems demonstrated through ACCEL.
“We are starting to talk to potential partners and customers on that,” he says. Although declining to reveal the names of interested parties, Gordon says conversations are under way with both international training providers and airframers.
“That’s one of the areas where we start seeing novel disruptors entering the marketplace. They are able to create capability quickly and are not necessarily in the big OEM space,” he says.
Gordon notes that while synthetic training will become increasingly prevalent, “if you want to get people interested in flight… they will have to get into a trainer at some point.
“It’s even more attractive if it is a fully sustainable platform,” he says.
Gordon acknowledges there are already other electric-powered trainers on the market, but says they generally “do not have anything like the aerobatic-type capabilities demanded by more advanced applications” such as military flight training.
R-R, he says, believes it could offer a “genuine alternative” to the market.
The company has previously noted that due to the high-power requirements for the speed record bid, the Spirit of Innovation’s cells are fully depleted in 8-10min; in normal conditions endurance would be around 180min.
But Gordon is confident that the company or its suppliers – UK firm Electroflight is providing the batteries for ACCEL – will be able to overcome any potential limitations, pointing to the “pace at which” the technology is moving, particularly driven by the automotive sector.
At present the UK Royal Air Force uses a fleet of Grob Aircraft G115 Tutor T1s for elementary training. However, other nations are already experimenting with electric-powered trainers: Denmark earlier this year agreed to lease a two-seat Pipistrel Velis Electro as part of a two-year trial.