Rolls-Royce Starts Work on First UltraFan Engine

 - March 29, 2021, 11:05 AM
The Rolls-Royce UltraFan will feature a 140-inch-diameter fan. (Photo: Rolls-Royce)

Rolls-Royce has begun work on the first UltraFan engine at its dedicated DemoWorks facility in Derby in the UK, the company confirmed on Monday. To become the largest aero engine in the world, the UltraFan features a 140-inch fan diameter and forms the basis for a potential new family of engines capable of delivering a 25 percent fuel efficiency improvement over the first-generation Trent turbofan. Rolls-Royce expects to complete work on the UltraFan’s demonstrator engine by the end of the year.

Notwithstanding recent talk of hydrogen and electrically powered aircraft, gas turbines will continue to power long-haul airplanes for many years, according to Rolls-Royce. The UltraFan’s efficiency will help improve the economics of an industry transition to more sustainable fuels, which will likely prove more expensive in the short-term than traditional jet fuel, added Rolls. The company plans to run the first test of the engine on 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (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.”

Several parties have contributed funding for the development of the UltraFan demonstrator and associated technologies by Rolls-Royce and a variety of funding agencies, including the Aerospace Technology Institute and Innovate UK (United Kingdom), LuFo (Germany), and the Clean Sky Joint Undertaking (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.”

As engine build starts, suppliers continue to make other key parts for delivery to Derby. Work has started on the UltraFan’s carbon titanium fan system in Bristol, UK, and its 50MW power gearbox in Dahlewitz, Germany. Rolls considers the UltraFan part of what it calls its IntelligentEngine vision; for example, each fan blade has a digital twin that stores real-life test data, allowing engineers to predict in-service performance. When on test at Rolls-Royce’s new £90 million Testbed 80 facility, engineers can take data from more than 10,000 parameters, detecting the tiniest of vibrations at a rate of up to 200,000 samples per second.

Key engineering features of the engine include an Advance 3 core architecture and the company’s ALECSys lean-burn combustion system, meant to deliver maximum fuel burn efficiency and low emissions. Carbon titanium fan blades and a composite casing reduce weight by up to 1,500 pounds per aircraft, while advanced ceramic matrix composite (CMC) components operate more effectively in high-pressure turbine temperatures. Finally, it features a geared design that delivers efficient power for future high-thrust, high bypass ratio engines.

Rolls-Royce expects to continue testing UltraFan engines into at least 2023 as it commits to the market availability of a new product by the turn of the decade, the company told AIN in January after the Financial Times published quotes from CEO Warren East indicating it would shelve post-testing development until the launch of a new airframe model. 

“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.”