The Dream of Electric Flight

by Florian Zandt

Rolls-Royce, a BMW subsidiary normally known for its luxury cars, has allegedly set a new world record for the fastest electric airplane flight. The fittingly-named Spirit of Innovation reached a speed of 345 miles per hour on November 16, breaking the record formerly set by a plane built by Siemens engineers. As our chart shows, only two other world records were attempted in this specific category as of now.

According to data by the World Air Sports Federation, the Extra 330LE is still the current record holder, since the Spirit of Innovation’s flight has not yet been officially ratified. The joint venture by Siemens and German aviation company Extra debuted in 2016 and was envisioned as a two-seated aerobatic plane capable of 20-minute flights including take-off, full-throttle flight and landing. Guinness World Record holder William “Chip” Yates comes in third with his heavily modified Long-ESA based on the Rutan Long-EZ, an airplane model geared towards home builders available from 1980 to 1985. Klaus Ohlmann, a renowned glider pilot and instructor from Germany, rounds out the top 4 with a speed of 118 miles per hour in his LAK 17 MINI FES.

Fully electric commercial passenger planes are still a dot on the horizon as of now, but the fact that companies like Siemens and Rolls-Royce are joining the ranks of aviation innovators serves as an indicator of a potential shift towards a more sustainable industry. In September 2021, for example, Airbus announced plans for three concept planes powered by hydrogen that the airplane manufacturer aims to have ready for take-off by 2035, after already successfully prototyping its air taxi CityAirbus. These kinds of innovations could help balance out the reliance on fossil fuels and the greenhouse gas emission problem of the industry. In 2019 alone, commercial aviation firms were responsible for the emission of 900 million metric tons of CO2 – more than the total carbon dioxide emissions of Germany in 2020.

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