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Rolls Royce begins constructing the world’s largest aircraft engine

The UltraFan is the basis for a potential new family of engines that will be able to power both narrowbody and widebody aircraft with improved sustainability and fuel efficiency as compared to the company’s first-generation Trent engines.

Rolls Royce has announced it has begun constructing the world’s largest aircraft engine. A successor to the Trent engine family, the new UltraFan will measure 3.5m in width. Work on the demonstrator engine is underway at the company’s DemoWorks facility in Derby, UK, with support from manufacturing units at Bristol and Dahlewitz, Germany, and is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Rolls Royce UltraFan engine
The Rolls Royce UltraFan will measure 140 inches (3.5m) in width, making it the largest aircraft engine in the world. (Photo: Courtesy Rolls Royce)

Driving fuel efficiency

Sustainability and fuel efficiency are the primary objectives of the UltraFan. It is the basis for a potential new family of engines able to power both narrowbody and widebody aircraft and deliver a 25% fuel efficiency improvement compared with the first generation of Trent engine, says Rolls Royce. As long-haul aviation continues to be dependent on gas turbines, this fuel efficiency could help improve the economics of an industry transition to more sustainable fuels, which are likely to be more expensive in the short-term than traditional jet fuel. The company plans to conduct its first test of the engine on sustainable aviation fuel. 

Inside the Rolls Royce composite technology facility in Bristol. (Photo: Courtesy Rolls Royce)

“Our first engine demonstrator, UF001, is now coming together and I’m really looking forward to seeing it built and ready for test,” says Rolls-Royce Civil Aerospace president Chris Cholerton. “It is arriving at a time when the world is seeking ever more sustainable ways to travel in a post-COVID 19 world, and it makes me and all our team very proud to know we are part of the solution.”

Key engineering features of the UltraFan include an Advance 3 core architecture combined with Rolls Royce’s ALECSys lean burn combustion system, to deliver maximum fuel burn efficiency and low emissions; carbon titanium fan blades and a composite casing that reduce weight by up to 1,500 pounds per aircraft; advanced ceramic matrix composite (CMC) components that operate more effectively in high pressure turbine temperatures; and a geared design that delivers efficient power for high-thrust, high bypass ratio engines.

Data-driven technology

The UltraFan is also expected to help mine data to enable engineers to further improve upon its technology through what the company calls IntelligentEngine vision. Each fan blade has a digital twin that stores real-life test data, allowing engineers to predict in-service performance. When on test at Rolls-Royce’s new £90 million Testbed 80 facility, engineers can take data from more than 10,000 parameters, detecting the tiniest of vibrations at a rate of up to 200,000 samples per second.

The development of the UltraFan engine and associated technologies is being backed by several funding agencies, including the Aerospace Technology Institute and Innovate UK (United Kingdom), LuFo (Germany) and Clean Sky Joint Undertaking (European Union). “The UltraFan project is a perfect example of how we are working with the industry to deliver green, sustainable flight for decades to come. Backed with significant government support, this project represents the scale of ambition for Britain’s crucial aerospace sector. Companies such as Rolls-Royce are playing a critical role as we build back greener from the pandemic and we are committed to giving the whole aerospace sector the support it needs to innovate and reach new heights,” says UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.

Rolls Royce plans to continue testing its UltraFan engine till 2023 and with market availability expected by the end of the decade.

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