'Spirit of Innovation' breaks speed record for all-electric aircraft

Battery-powered plane smashed previous best times, independent aviation body confirms

A test pilot flying the 'Spirit of Innovation'. Rolls-Royce.
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A British plane named the Spirit of Innovation has officially broken the world speed record for an all-electric aircraft, its maker Rolls-Royce has confirmed.

The aircraft, which uses a single propeller, reached a top speed of 555.9 km/h (345.4 mph) over three kilometres on November 16. In another first, the battery-powered plane also hit speeds of 532.1km/h (330 mph) over 15 kilometres, nearly double the previous record over the same distance.

The record-breaking times, which took place at the UK Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down experimental aircraft testing site, have now been independently verified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the Switzerland-based body which governs aeronautical records.

In addition, Rolls-Royce claims the plane also clocked maximum top speed of 623km/h (387.4mph) during the runs, likely making the Spirit of Innovation the fastest electric vehicle ever made.

The British government has a 50 per cent stake in the £6million electric project, known as ACCEL or ‘Accelerating the Electrification of Flight’ in the hope that the funds will boost innovation in the aviation industry and clear the path to zero carbon emissions.

The plane is driven by a 500-horse power (400-kilowatt) electric powertrain. Currently, it can fly the 370km journey from London to Paris on a single charge that takes only 30 minutes to fully charge its lithium-ion batteries.

“Rolls-Royce’s revolutionary Spirit of Innovation aircraft is yet more proof of the UK’s enviable credentials when it comes to innovation," the UK's Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said. "This record will show the potential of electric flight and help to unlock the technologies that could make it part of everyday life."

"This is another milestone that will help make ‘jet zero’ a reality and supports our ambitions to deliver the technology breakthroughs society needs to decarbonise transport across air, land and sea, said Warren East, the chief executive of Rolls-Royce.

Video: Rolls-Royce embarks on electric flight journey

Rolls-Royce takes once step closer to electric flight with 'Spirit of Innovation'

Rolls-Royce takes once step closer to electric flight with 'Spirit of Innovation'

Rolls-Royce director of flight operations Phill O’Dell described it as a "momentous occasion".

In June, Rolls-Royce announced its plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions, a year after joining the UN Race to Zero campaign. The company aims to be a net-zero operation by 2030 with all products compatible by 2050.

The three electric-vehicle speed world records

1. Fastest electric aircraft over three kilometres

At 15:45 (GMT) on November 16, 2021, the Spirit of Innovation reached a top speed of 555.9kph over three kilometres, smashing the existing record by 213.04kph.

2. Fastest electric aircraft over 15 kilometres

In further runs at the UK Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down experimental aircraft testing site, the aircraft achieved 532.1kph over 15 kilometres – 292.8kph faster than the previous record.

3. Fastest time to climb to 3000 metres

It also broke the fastest time to climb to 3,000 metres by 60 seconds with a time of 202 seconds.

Fastest all-electric vehicle yet?

The cherry on the cake came when the aircraft clocked a maximum speed of 623kph, which the company believes makes it the world’s fastest all-electric vehicle, although that achievement has not been submitted to the FAI.

Updated: January 20, 2022, 1:34 PM