Rolls-Royce powers up UltraFan technology demonstrator - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 16 November 2023

Rolls-Royce powers up UltraFan technology demonstrator

UltraFan’s scalable technology will allow the new engine to power the narrow body, single aisle airliners that form the bulk of commercial airline fleets


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 17th Nov 23


Rolls-Royce announced on Tuesday that it had successfully tested its new, experimental airliner engine, called the UltraFan® technology demonstrator, to maximum power in its facility in Derby, UK.


The initial stage of the test was conducted using 100 per cent Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), said the company in a media release.


The new UltraFan is 10 per cent more efficient than Rolls-Royce’s Trent XWB, which is already the most efficient large aero-engine in service anywhere. In total that’s a 25 per cent efficiency gain since the launch of the first Trent engine, stated the company.


UltraFan’s scalable technology – from ~25,000 - 110,000 pounds of thrust – allows the new engine to power the narrow body airliners that form the bulk of commercial airline fleets. Currently, Rolls-Royce only produces the large engines needed for powering twin-aisle, wide body passenger airliners.


That leaves it out of the larger, more lucrative market for the smaller engines that power single-aisle aircraft. That market is dominated by its rivals – engine-makers Pratt & Whitney, General Electric and Safran.


Besides wide-body commercial airliners, Rolls-Royce has a major presence in military aero engines and maritime engines that power warships.


Rolls-Royce stated on Tuesday: “UltraFan demonstrator engine’s run to full power took place in the world’s largest and smartest indoor aero-engine testing facility – Testbed 80, in Derby, UK.”


This test is an important milestone for the UltraFan demonstrator, which was tested successfully for the first time earlier this year. Since then, the UltraFan team has gradually increased power as part of the testing regime. 


Rolls-Royce claims the demonstrator has performed in line with expectations. “This achievement reinforces our confidence in the suite of technologies that has been developed as part of the UltraFan programme,” it said after the test. 


UltraFan has been a decade in the making, with the concept unveiled publicly in 2014. It has a fundamentally different design architecture from that of the approximately 4,200 Rolls-Royce large civilian engines currently in service, as it incorporates a geared design that no other industry player has produced at this size before.


Testing the demonstrator is the culmination of many years work, supported by the UK Government through the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), Innovate UK; the EU’s Clean Sky programmes plus LuFo and the State of Brandenburg in Germany.


“As part of the UltraFan development programme we have identified a number of technologies that are potentially transferable to our current Trent engines… The results of the test will provide us with valuable learning and data, which our teams will now take away and continue to analyse,” said the company


“This fantastic milestone puts us in a strong position to support the plans of our customers as they develop the next generation of super-efficient aircraft,” said Tufan Erginbilgic, CEO, Rolls-Royce.


“We estimate that to reach Net Zero flying by 2050, a combination of highly-efficient, latest-generation gas turbines such as UltraFan operating on 100 per cent SAF are likely to contribute around 80 per cent of the total solution, which is why today’s announcement is such an important milestone for Rolls-Royce and the wider industry,” said Simon Burr, Rolls-Royce’s engineering chief. 

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