As successful as the Rolls-Royce name has been in luxury cars, it's been far bigger in aeronautics. The two are very separate companies at this point – the car company employs some 1,300 people, but it's absolutely dwarfed by the aircraft motor business, which employs around 50,000. So when these guys announce a four- to five-passenger hybrid electric/turbine VTOL aircraft concept with a 250-mph top speed and a 500-mile range, it's worth listening.
Presented at this year's Farnborough International Airshow, the EVTOL concept uses six electric rotors for vertical takeoff and landing, giving it access to helipads and other small landing zones. The props are designed to minimize noise, allowing it to operate over cities without as much disruption as a helicopter.
Once aloft and moving forward, the main wing and tail fins tilt fully forward, enabling high-efficiency winged flight and a top speed around 250 mph (402 km/h). The props on the main wing fold away during winged flight, further reducing drag and increasing the efficiency of the design in the air.
Rather than a massive battery, the EVTOL uses a smaller one, which would be charged by an efficient gas turbine generator to enable a huge 500-mile (805-km) range, far further than fully electric tilt-wing designs can manage at this point.
Rolls-Royce says this machine could be in production as soon as "the early to mid 2020s, provided that a viable commercial model for its introduction can be created."
While this concept uses an M250 gas turbine and leverages the company's rich history of aircraft engine design, it's clear that Rolls-Royce sees a fully electric powertrain taking over somewhere in the future.
Tilt-wing electric-propulsion VTOL aircraft are popping up all over the place at the moment, so there's nothing particularly new or radical about this design, except the long-range hybrid powertrain and the fact that, rather than a Silicon Valley startup, it's being pushed by an established aerospace company that does US$21.5 billion dollars worth of business a year instead of. One to keep an eye on.