MIAMI – Yesterday, Rolls-Royce confirmed it has started development on the first UltraFan engine at the DemoWorks specialized facility in Derby, UK.

According to a press release from the company, the UltraFan has a 140-inch fan diameter and will become the world’s biggest aero engine. The UltraFan is a platform for a future family of engines capable of providing a 25% uptick in fuel efficiency over the first-generation Trent turbofan.

Rolls-Royce anticipates that complete the full testing on the UltraFan demonstrator before the end of the year.

UltraFan, Yes or No?

Despite recent talk of hydrogen and electrically driven aircraft, Rolls-Royce predicts that gas turbines will continue to fuel long-haul planes for several years. In addition, Rolls notes that the UltraFan’s reliability would help boost the economics of an energy shift to Sustainable Aviation Fule (SAF).

Furthermore, the company added that SAF will definitely be more costly in the near term than traditional jet fuel. The company expects to conduct the engine’s first test on 100 percent SAF.

“Our first engine demonstrator, UF001, is now coming together and I’m really looking forward to seeing it built and ready for test,” said Rolls-Royce Civil Aerospace president Chris Cholerton. “It is arriving at a time when the world is seeking ever more sustainable ways to travel in a post-COVID 19 world, and it makes me and all our team very proud to know we are part of the solution.”

In the development of the UltraFan demonstrator and related technologies, Rolls-Royce collaborates with a range of supporting organizations. Aerospace Research Institute and Innovate UK (UK), LuFo (Germany), and the Clean Sky Joint Undertaking are among these organizations (European Union).

“The UltraFan project is a perfect example of how we are working with industry to deliver green, sustainable flight for decades to come,” said UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. “Backed with significant government support, this project represents the scale of ambition for Britain’s crucial aerospace sector.”

UltraFan. Photo: Rolls-Royce

Partners and Features

When engine construction begins, vendors will continue to supply Derby with other main components. For example, development has begun on the carbon titanium fan assembly of the UltraFan in Bristol, UK. In addition, its 50MW power transmission unit is in progress in Dahlewitz, Germany.

Rolls considers the ultrafan to be part of what it called an InteligentEngine vision. In that each fan blade has a digital twin which keeps true-life tested data, allowing engineers to forecast service efficiency. Also, Rolls will test the UF001 on its latest Testbed 80 facility worth of USD 90m . Therefore, engineers can collect data from more than 10,000 parameters. That is tosay they can identify the smallest number of vibrations trough 200,000 samples per second.

The engine’s main technical features include the core architecture Advance 3 and the ALECSys lean-burn system. Rolls designed both systems to provide optimum fuel efficiency and low emissions. Secondly, Carbon fan blades and composite housings minimize the weight by up to 1,500 kg. On the other hand, advanced CMC components work more efficiently with high-pressure turbines. Finally, it features a geared architecture that offers a powerful control for future high-pressure, high-bypass motors.

Virtual modeling. photo: Rolls-Royce

Market Readiness

Rolls-Royce plans to continue testing UltraFan engines until at least 2023. However, it sticks to introduce its UltraFan to market by the end of the decade when a new airframe is available.

“We have always said that the eventual timing of UltraFan’s entry into service will be dependent on aircraft manufacturers’ requirements,” the company said in a statement. “We remain committed to having a product available to the market at the turn of the decade, but in the post-testing phase, we will continue to monitor customer requirements going forward, particularly given the impact of Covid-19. If this requires us to re-phase the program then we would do so.”

Featured image: UltraFan. Render: Rolls-Royce