While Rolls-Royce (Chalet 93) has a very strong position in the large commercial aircraft powerplant market with its Trent family of high-bypass turbofans, the company is not resting on its laurels. According to director of marketing Richard Goodhead, the company is on 35 aircraft types but predicts what “may be a paradigm shift” with electrification of aircraft—similar in gravity to the post-WWII shift from pistons to jets. Meanwhile, he pointed to “the D-word”—digitization—as the key “enabling technology.”

“The Intelligent Engine (IE) is the vision we subscribe to in all parts of civil aerospace,” said Goodhead. “Combining products, services, and digital, IE allows us to have an engine that is connected, contextually aware, and comprehending”—the so-called “Three Cs.”

Back in the world of airline operations, Rolls’ mantra is “The Power of Trent” with three-shaft engines that are on “one in every two aircraft” in the world widebody fleet, said Goodhead. The next generation of widebody engines from Rolls has yet to be defined as it depends on what the aircraft manufacturers want, not to mention that a relevant aircraft has yet to be launched. However, it is developing its UltraFan with a range of development projects designed to give it a “pick and mix” of technologies it can take off the shelf when the time is right.

Phil Curnock, Rolls-Royce chief engineer of technology and future programs, said there were three key pillars of technology. “We can’t optimize the gas turbine much more. We may be able to optimize with electricity, but the larger aircraft will still need gas turbines.”

Therefore, Rolls is focused on increased aircraft/engine integration with airframers, and electrification, conscious of the need to further reduce fuel burn and increase efficiency to help the industry meet its ACARE 2050 targets for CO2, NOx, and noise reduction. With Advance and UltraFan engines, it estimates further emissions improvements of 20- and 25-percent respectively over current engines.

Rolls has its Advance 2 technology-development program for smaller aircraft such as business jets and Advance 3 for developing and moving on from its current three-shaft Trent family. Curnock gave a wide-ranging update on a long list of programs.

At its Derby, UK headquarters, Rolls is currently developing the ALPS engine, which incorporates a composite fan that has flown already on a Trent 1000 fitted to the company’s Boeing 747 flying testbed in the U.S. “More aggressive” testing will continue this year, said Curnock, who added “We’ll really give it a rough ride.”

Also at Derby is the construction site for the new, vast UltraFan test cell (Test Cell 80). Rolls hopes to run the full UltraFan demonstrator in its new test cell in 2021, while the flying demonstrator is also being prepared to take the larger engine. Gareth Hedicker, director of development and experimental engineering, said, “Once it’s finished it will be the largest indoor test bed in the world.”

Separately, Rolls-Royce continues to test its 80-cm-diameter Power Gear Box at its Dahlewitz, Germany site. Five PGB articles (of a total of seven or eight) having been tested now on the attitude rig. “We’ve got more than 250 hours of test experience already,” said Curnock, who added the sixth PGB will be put on the power rig in October. Testing will take the PGB up to, and beyond, 80,000 shp.


While Rolls is involved in several electric aircraft/powerplant projects for smaller aircraft and eVTOLs, it also is investing in electrification of larger aircraft, where pure electric isn’t feasible in the foreseeable future. Eddie Orr—the head of capability at Rolls-Royce Electrical who looks after the company’s global research and development projects in this burgeoning area—said Rolls is determined to remain a pioneer in aerospace, to such an extent that “Rolls-Royce is moving to become a tech company.”

With electric, “We see it as a new S-curve at the point when we can’t get much more out of the gas turbine, although the gas turbine will be core to our business for decades to come,” according to Orr.

Overall, he said, “our business is being the propulsion provider of choice.” To ensure it has the technology ready, Rolls has “a growing electrical global footprint”—an Adour engine being tested with more-electric elements at its plant in Bristol, England; a smart motor team in Norway, working in the E-Fan X project, based on a BAe 146 aircraft; a team in Dahlewitz working on opportunities with smaller engines; and a team in Singapore working on energy storage and power electronics—not to mention various university technology centers.

Along with E-Fan X, which uses a modified AE2100 engine to drive a generator which in turn drives a motor/fan, with first flight planned next year, Rolls has the ACCEL single-seat racer project with Electroflight and YASA. It hopes to flight test the ACCEL racer in 2020 and then later attempt to break the electric aircraft speed record.

Additionally, the company has its M250 hybrid demonstrator, with initial ground tests completed late last year in the U.S. “The next step is to make this more bespoke—we’ll get it on a platform and get it flying. We’ll demonstrate three modes of operation—series hybrid, parallel hybrid, and turbo-electric.”

He added there was a debate in the industry about whether to “bring out a new ATA chapter” to help shape standards for such tech.