Demonstrating sustainable aviation potential

Hayley Everett

Aerospace manufacturer Rolls-Royce has successfully completed the first tests of its UltraFan technology demonstrator at its Derby facility in the UK. When completed, Rolls-Royce says UltraFan will be the world’s largest aeroengine, and will contribute to more sustainable air travel.

One of the significant features of the engine is its carbon composite titanium fan rotor blades, which will be the world’s largest with a diameter of 140 inches. Created at the company’s Bristol centre of excellence, the blades have a titanium leading edge and a composite casing made out of a carbon fibre-reinforced composite (CFRP). The combination reduces the weight of the overall fan system, helping to create additional fuel burn efficiency.

The blade design

The blades feature a novel Advance3 core architecture, combined with Rolls-Royce’s ALECSys lean burn combustion system, to deliver maximum fuel burn efficiency and low emissions. The carbon-fibre titanium blades and composite casing, combined with a geared design that enables efficient power for high-thrust and high bypass engines, has delivered a record for the aerospace sector: the power gearbox has run at 64 megawatts.

The blades themselves are created through the build-up of hundreds of layers of carbon-fibre materials, pre-filled with toughness-enhancing resin material. Heat and pressure are then applied to form the blades. The blades have already been extensively tested on an Advanced Low Pressure System (ALPS) development engine, including in-flight testing on the Rolls-Royce Flying Test Bed.

Successful testing

Testing the UltraFan demonstrator is the culmination of a decade of work, supported by the UK government, Innovate UK, the EU’s Clean Sky programmes, and LuFo. The tests took place in TestBed 80, Rolls-Royce’s large indoor aerospace testing facility. Confirming the capability of the various technologies incorporated in the demonstrator is an important factor in enhancing the efficiency of current and future aerospace engines. According to Rolls-Royce, UltraFan is capable of delivering a 10% efficiency improvement over the Trent XWB, one of the most efficient large aeroengines currently in service.

The UltraFan development programme offers the opportunity to transfer various technologies to Rolls-Royce’s current in-service engines to deliver greater availability, reliability and efficiency to customers. The technologies are scalable, capable of being developed to create an engine with a thrust range of 25,000-110,000 pounds of thrust for new narrowbody and widebody aircraft anticipated in 2030 and beyond.

UltraFan will be ready to run on 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) from day one of service, providing a lifecycle carbon reduction of at least 80% compared to the traditional jet fuel it replaces.

“The UltraFan demonstrator is a game changer – the technologies we are testing as part of this programme have the capability to improve the engines of today as well as the engines of tomorrow,” says Tufan Erginbilgic, CEO of Rolls-Royce. “That is why this announcement is so important – we are witnessing history in the making; a step-change in engine efficiency improvement. When combined with SAFs, more efficient gas turbine engines will be key to hitting the industry’s target of net zero flight by 2050. Collaboration is key in driving the decarbonisation of air travel and the UltraFan programme is a great example of what can be achieved when government and industry come together with a common purpose.”

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