Rolls-Royce flies aircraft using hybrid powertrain that cuts fuel use by up to 20%

The P2010 H3PS hybrid demonstrator aircraft in flight (Credit: Rolls-Royce)
The P2010 H3PS hybrid powertrain demonstrator aircraft in flight (Credit: Rolls-Royce)

The electric propulsion system could help reduce fuel consumption by up to 20% while maintaining and even extending range, according to developer Rolls-Royce.

The company yesterday (15 February) reported the first successful flight of the P2010 H3PS demonstrator, which took place on 21 December 2021. The H3PS project, standing for ‘High Power, High Scalability Aircraft Hybrid Powertrain’, is funded under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

A team of Rolls-Royce, aircraft manufacturer Tecnam, and engine manufacturer Rotax worked together to equip a four-seat Tecnam P2010 with a parallel-hybrid electric powertrain, believed to be the first of its kind for general aviation.

“The project introduces advanced technology for a smaller power class, while being scalable for larger general aviation aircraft,” the Rolls-Royce announcement said.

The company’s electrical team in Hungary was responsible for the design, manufacturing, and installation of the complete electric propulsion system. Extensive data was collected during the flight to maintain optimal operation of the system, which could influence future projects such as the development of a propulsion system for an eVTOL (Electrical Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft.

“The first successful maiden test of the H3PS aircraft is a pioneering achievement of the Hungarian Rolls-Royce team in the development of a hybrid-electric flight,” said Zoltán Koltai, head of manufacturing for Rolls-Royce Electrical.

“The programme has demonstrated our ability to design, manufacture, and install a fully integrated system and has provided us with valuable data and experience in hybrid-electric flight. The knowledge we gained will be used in future international projects to create higher performance hybrid-electric propulsion systems capable of powering a 19-seat commuter aircraft.”

The 30kW system first works as a starter motor for the combustion engine, then becomes a thrust booster-motor to add extra torque to the propeller shaft during take-off and climb. When the aircraft is cruising, it operates as a generator and converts the shaft movement into electric energy to recharge the batteries.

The electric motor’s contribution means the combustion engine can be reduced in size. The 180hp standard engine on the P2010 was replaced with a smaller engine with only 141hp, cutting fuel consumption, increasing efficiency, and reducing wear-and-tear from extensive use.