UltraFan on test marks a step-change in ultra-efficient engine technology

A week on from Rolls-Royce announcing the first successful tests of UltraFan, ATI Chief Technology Officer Simon Weeks reflects on a step-change for the sector and personal highlight from his tenure with the ATI.

© Rolls-Royce plc

Developing new technology, particularly in aerospace, can be a long and complex process. That is particularly true when the new technology is attempting a step-change in what has gone before. The reality of innovating is that it can take many years of hard work by many people behind closed doors.

So it is important that, when a new technology has reached a significant milestone in its development, we should pause to celebrate and share that achievement. That is what happened last week with the news that the Rolls-Royce UltraFan programme has completed its first successful tests.

UltraFan is a major programme in aircraft engines, not just in the UK but globally. Whereas previous generations of engines have improved incrementally, UltraFan aims to achieve a remarkable increase in engine performance. UltraFan will be 10 per cent more fuel efficient than the Trent XWB, which is currently the world’s most efficient large aero-engine in service. Compared to the first generation of Trent engines, it will be 25 per cent more fuel efficient. These sorts of leaps in performance are incredibly rare.

And it’s doing all this on 100 per cent Sustainable Aviation Fuel, ensuring that it is ready for the sector’s move to using this more environmentally-friendly fuel source.

I was pleased to join colleagues to mark this special moment. The event, at the specially-designed Testbed 80 in Derby, was attended by many of those who worked on the programme. We heard from Tufan Erginbilgic, CEO of Rolls-Royce, and Grazia Vittadini, their CTO, on the on-going importance of gas turbine efficiency in the company’s sustainability strategy.

The view that ultra-efficient gas turbines will continue to have a role in aerospace aligns with the UK aerospace technology strategy, Destination Zero, as set out by the ATI. We have invested in ultra-efficient aircraft technologies such as UltraFan because we believe that better energy efficiency will play an important role in helping the sector to achieve its Net Zero 2050 targets.

As such, UltraFan is absolutely critical for the future of the aircraft engine industry in the UK, and gives the UK a significant advantage in the global market. When Rolls-Royce finishes testing, the company will be in an excellent position to address future aircraft programmes.

The ATI has supported the UltraFan programme since our earliest days. Long-term funding, such as that that provided through the ATI Programme, is essential to support new technology and innovations at the scale of UltraFan and other multi-year programmes.

UltraFan has been a decade in the making and a consistent thread throughout my time at the ATI, which will be coming to an end in July. It’s a personal highlight from my tenure as CTO that we have supported Rolls-Royce in delivering this extraordinary achievement, and I look forward to seeing where this exciting new technology goes next.

Cover image copyright: © Rolls-Royce plc