In development for a decade, Rolls-Royce’s Ultrafan engine recently performed its first static test. Initial tests were conducted at the company’s facility in Derby, UK, with the engine fueled 100% with Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).
Measuring 3.5 meters in diameter and designed to propel large wide-body aircraft, the Ultrafan is the largest jet engine of all time.
According to the manufacturer, the latest generation turbofan is designed to offer a 10% improvement in efficiency compared to the Trent XWB, currently the largest engine in the Rolls-Royce catalogue.
“The UltraFan demonstrator is a game changer – the technologies we are testing as part of this program have the capability to improve the engines of today as well as the engines of tomorrow. That is why this announcement is so important – we are witnessing history in the making; a step-change in engine improvement efficiency”, celebrated Rolls-Royce CEO Tufan Erginbilgic.
The manufacturer explains that part of the improvements in Ultrafan’s efficiency come from the new blades, which reduce the weight of a twin-engine aircraft by 700 kg, something equivalent to seven passengers on board a commercial jet.
The blades of the new Rolls-Royce engine are manufactured by accumulating hundreds of “sheets” of carbon fiber and resin. Each blade still has a thin titanium edge, a detail that according to the manufacturer offers “extreme protection” against erosion, foreign objects and collisions with birds.
Boeing 777X and Airbus A350
Other UltraFan advancements include more heat-resistant ceramic internals and a new gear design to improve motor efficiency. The new series should originate a family of engines with scalable thrust between 25,000 lbf and 100,000 lbf, according to the British manufacturer, who expects to have the product completed in the 2030s.
The UltraFan is still a technology demonstrator and therefore has not been selected to power any known aircraft yet. The expectation, however, is that it will be used in large commercial jets, such as the new Boeing 777X and perhaps updated versions of the Airbus A350.
The largest engine that equips an aircraft today is General Electric’s GE9X, with 3.2 m in diameter, used in the new generation of the 777 – which should hit the market in mid-2025.