Paris Air Show 2019: Rolls-Royce enters 'dawn of the third era of aviation' with new Siemens deal set to bring quieter and cleaner airplanes to the sky

Sian Bayley

We are at the “dawn of the third era of aviation” according to the Rob Watson, director of Rolls-Royce Electrical, speaking as the company announced its agreement to buy an electric aerospace unit from Siemens at the Paris Air Show.

Rolls-Royce will now work with a team of 180 specialist electric designers and engineers on electric and hybrid-electric aircraft projects. The acquisition is expected to occur at the end of the year, following a period of employee consultation, it was announced.

“Electrification is set to have as dramatic an impact on aviation as the replacement of piston engines by gas turbines. We are at the dawn of the third era of aviation, which will bring a new class of quieter and cleaner air transport to the skies,” said Watson who spoke at the air show yesterday.

He added: “We have already made significant strides in realising our strategy of ‘championing electrification’ and this move will accelerate our ambitions in aerospace by adding vital skills and technology to our portfolio. It brings us increased scale and additional expertise as we develop a product range of hybrid power and propulsion systems.”

The Siemens eAircraft team, based in Germany and Hungary, has previously worked with Rolls-Royce on the E-Fan X demonstrator project, designing hybrid-electric propulsion for regional aircraft. Rolls Royce have also conducted successful ground tests of a hybrid propulsion system that can be used across smaller transport platforms including EVTOLs (hybrid electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles), general aviation aircraft, and hybrid helicopters.

These ground tests used a Rolls-Royce M250 gas turbine using a variety of hybrid methods. These included:

  • Series hybrid configuration, where the engine operates as a turbo-generator that charges an on-board battery system
  • Parallel hybrid, where the aircraft’s thrust is supplied by a combination of the engine and the electrical system
  • Turbo-electric mode, where the engine operates as a pure turbo-generator supplying electric power for thrust and any other power needs on the aircraft.

Rolls-Royce hope to start experimental test flights in 2021. Paul Stein, Rolls-Royce chief technology officer, added: “We believe that pure electric, or all-electric, propulsion will power smaller aircraft in the foreseeable future, while larger aircraft will rely upon hybrid electric solutions that combine electrification with evolutions of the gas turbine.”

Other industry leaders also pledged to halve 2005-level carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 at yesterday’s show, as well as limit the growth of net CO2 emissions by 2020.