The world's largest aircraft engine is now ready for testing

Rolls Royce's Ultrafan also offers a range of sustainability options for transitioning to net zero aviation.
Christopher McFadden
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Rolls Royce are gearing up to test its Ultrafan engine.

Rolls Royce 

Rolls-Royce has announced that the construction of its UltraFan® technology demonstrator was complete and that testing was now underway. A significant program milestone was reached when the demonstrator engine was moved from the build workshop to Derby, U.K.'s Testbed 80, where it was mounted in anticipation of testing.

The first test of the demonstrator is expected to take place early next year and will be operated using 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel.

Chris Cholerton, President of Rolls-Royce Civil Aerospace, said: “Seeing the UltraFan demonstrator come together and getting ready for test in Testbed 80 is a great way to end the year. We have all been waiting for this moment, which is such an important milestone for the program and for the team who have worked on it. The next stage will be to see UltraFan run for the first time on 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel in 2023, proving the technology is ready to support more sustainable flight in the future.”

The largest aero-engine demonstrator in the world, UltraFan features several revolutionary innovations that increase fuel efficiency, which reduces emissions and improves sustainability. The technology could also be used to improve the efficiency and sustainability of our present in-service engines shortly.

"The UltraFan demonstrator is designed for the future – it will be ready to run on 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel from day one of service. In addition, we are actively exploring potential options for hybrid-electric and hydrogen power solutions," explains Rolls Royce.

The fan in the UltraFan demonstration is 140 inches (3.56 meters) in diameter, and it uses 25% less fuel than the first generation of Trent engines. It combines a brand-new engine design with a set of technologies that will make air travel more sustainable for decades.

UltraFan, Rolls Royce says, offers a range of sustainability options for transitioning to net zero aviation. There are alternatives for transferring innovations from the UltraFan development program to the present Trent engines shortly to provide improved fuel efficiency and emissions reductions.

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Long-term fuel economy gains of up to 10% are possible with UltraFan's scalable technology from 25,000 lb thrust (111 Kilonewtons ) to 110,000 lb thrust (489 Kilonewtons) for narrowbody and widebody aircraft.

Rolls Royce's Power Generation System 1 (PGS1) hybrid-electric system has previously been tested up to 1.5 MW, giving them unmatched experience in the industry. These tests were conducted utilizing a modified AE 2100 engine equipped with power electronics and cutting-edge thermals in Bristol, UK, and Trondheim, Norway.

Rolls Royce is also experimenting with hybrid and hydrogen-fuelled variants

Rolls Royce is now analyzing new product applications for its engines and future airframer requirements. One possibility is a "More Electric" engine, where electrical technology is increased, for instance, by directly extracting power or electrifying the fuel and oil systems. As an alternative, micro-hybridization would allow us to utilize stored energy to improve engine performance throughout the flight cycle and reduce fuel use.

Rolls Royce has also announced a research program of rig and engine tests to demonstrate that hydrogen fuel can reliably and efficiently supply power for small- to medium-sized aircraft starting in the mid-2030s as part of its commitment to fully understanding the opportunities and challenges of hydrogen power systems.

Various locations, including the Rolls-Royce test site in Mississippi, USA, are being considered for the two ground tests, which are scheduled for a Rolls-Royce AE 2100 engine in the U.K. this year and a Rolls-Royce Pearl 15 jet engine in the future. With input from Cranfield University on fuel system management, this will expand on hydrogen combustion tests currently well underway in collaboration with Loughborough University and the German research institute DLR.

"We have further ambitions to move this on to a flight test phase as part of the program in the long term," explains Rolls Royce.

The UltraFan demonstrator's size and technical complexity were specifically accommodated by Testbed 80, the largest and smartest testbed in the world. Several hours of experimental engine testing have already been done since it was first used in 2020.

The U.K.'s Aerospace Technology Institute and Innovate UK, the EU's Clean Sky programs, LuFo, and the German State of Brandenburg have all supported the UltraFan technology demonstrator initiative.