A video uploaded to Reddit’s /r/aerospace community appeared to show a previously unseen eVTOL tiltwing aircraft prototype undergoing ground testing at Cranfield Airport, which eVTOL.com confirmed to be a Rolls-Royce research testbed.
The Oct. 13 footage, since removed, showed what looks like a large- or full-scale VTOL aircraft with six propellers, four on its wing and two on the twin tail. During the one-minute video, both the wing and tail slowly tilt vertically and the two inboard propellers on the wing shut off.
The aircraft appeared very similar to the concept unveiled by Rolls-Royce in July 2018, which was to be powered by a modified M250 gas turbine and capable of carrying four to five passengers at speeds up to 250 miles per hour (400 kilometers per hour). Reuters reported at the time that Rolls-Royce was searching for an airframe maker and a partner to provide aspects of the electrical system.
In June of last year, Rolls-Royce announced it would acquire Siemens’ eAircraft business, solving the latter gap in competency. The company said it was working toward integrating the M250 power plant onto an aircraft for experimental flights in 2021.
Rolls-Royce provided the following statement to eVTOL.com regarding this project and its future plans in the hybrid- and electric aviation space:
“Championing sustainable power is a key part of Rolls-Royce’s strategy. As part of our activity with Cranfield at the Aerospace Integration Research Centre, we have developed a research rig aimed at helping us understand the propulsion systems requirements for future electric and hybrid electric aircraft.
“Following the acquisition of Siemens eAircraft business, we are now firmly focusing our efforts on developing all-electric and hybrid-electric propulsion system technology that can be used across a range of aircraft including eVTOLs. Any commercial introduction of an eVTOL powered by a Rolls-Royce system will involve working in collaboration with a range of strategic partners such as airframers, energy storage, electric motor and power electronics specialists and avionics companies.”
Cranfield Airport is a hotbed of developmental aerospace activity, home to numerous military and civil projects as well as other eVTOL companies, notably Samad Aerospace.
October 14: This article has been updated with confirmation from Rolls-Royce that the aircraft depicted is indeed a research rig developed in partnership with Cranfield University’s Aerospace Integration Research Centre.
October 15: This article has been further updated to reflect that the video has been since removed from reddit.