The Rolls-Royce ACCEL (short for ‘Accelerating the Electrification of Flight’) project has won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2022 Colin Campbell Mitchell Award. The Spirit of Innovation aircraft represents the world’s fastest electric vehicle and was developed to accelerate the electrification of aerospace and demonstrate the potential for sustainable net zero aviation.
The Colin Campbell Mitchell Award is made annually to an engineer or small team of engineers who have made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of any field of UK engineering.
On 16 November 2021, the Spirit of Innovation aircraft set three new world records for top speed over 3km and 15km distances and for fastest 3000 metre climb as officially verified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. During its record-breaking runs, the aircraft also clocked up a maximum top speed of 623km/h (387.4mph) making it the world’s fastest all-electric vehicle.
The aircraft was propelled on its record breaking runs by a 600kW electric drive unit and the most power-dense propulsion battery pack ever assembled in aerospace. Novel energy storage manufacturing techniques were used to increase safety and redundancy for an aerospace environment.
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Rolls-Royce received half of the project’s funding from the Aerospace Technology Institute and worked in partnership with aviation energy storage pioneer Electroflight, now a subsidiary of Evolito Ltd and automotive electric powertrain supplier YASA – now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz - to develop the aircraft.
The technical advancements achieved for the project also accelerated critical innovation towards Rolls-Royce’s future electric power and propulsion systems for all-electric urban air mobility and hybrid electric commuter aircraft. The battery and motor characteristics required for air-taxis are very similar to those developed for the Spirit of Innovation.
The recipients of the Award are:
Professor Bashir Al-Hashimi CBE FREng, Chair of the Academy’s Awards Committee, said:
“The record-breaking Spirit of Innovation aircraft represents a significant achievement in British engineering innovation. The rapid pace at which this team has advanced electrification for aerospace shows exciting promise for the future of decarbonised transport and air mobility. I am delighted that the Academy is celebrating these engineers for pioneering new technologies and for their outstanding contribution to the industry and to society.”
Matheu Parr, Rolls-Royce Project Lead for ACCEL, said:
“Achieving the all-electric world-speed record was a momentous occasion and an incredible achievement for the team, our partners YASA and Electroflight and Rolls-Royce. The electrification technology and capabilities that were developed are already being applied to create exciting new applications in the advanced air mobility market. I hope the records set by this fantastic aircraft inspire people with what can be done today to enable net-zero aviation.”
Tim Woolmer, founder and CTO at YASA and Advisor at Evolito said:
“I’m delighted that the record-breaking Spirit of Innovation has been recognised by the Royal Academy of Engineering. Thanks to the project, electric flight is one step closer – it’s a fantastic example of how multiple stakeholders with complementary skills can come together to push the boundaries of what’s possible, commercialise innovation and help achieve global goals such as net zero.”
Gary Elliott, Chief Executive Officer at the Aerospace Technology Institute, said:
“The ACCEL project demonstrates that strategic investment in UK technology and innovation can achieve extraordinary world-beating results and set us firmly on the path to decarbonising passenger flight in the future. This achievement will resonate for many years to come and inspire the next generation of aerospace engineers. Our congratulations to the team for winning this prestigious award.”