Rolls Considers Need To ‘Re-phase’ UltraFan Development

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Rolls-Royce expects to continue testing UltraFan engines into at least 2023 as it commits to the market availability of a new product by the turn of the decade, the company told AIN Monday after the Financial Times published quotes from CEO Warren East indicating it would shelve post-testing development until the launch of a new airframe model.

The company also said that it will continue to look to secure partnerships for the development of new gas turbine technologies as funded by Clean Sky and other initiatives.

“We have always said that the eventual timing of UltraFan’s entry into service will be dependent on aircraft manufacturers’ requirements,” the company said in a statement. “We remain committed to having a product available to the market at the turn of the decade, but in the post-testing phase, we will continue to monitor customer requirements going forward, particularly given the impact of Covid-19. If this requires us to re-phase the program then we would do so.”

Rolls-Royce has now entered what it calls an “intensive” phase of development, as it manufactures parts for the first demonstrator engine scheduled for testing by the end of the year. Ground testing on its new purpose-built testbed, now nearing completion at its plant in Derby, UK, will take place over “a number of months through 2022,” followed by testing on “multiple” engines.

Targeting a 25-percent reduction in emissions compared with the first generation of Trent turbofans, the UltraFan technology program could address applications ranging from 25,000 to 100,000 pounds of thrust, making it suitable for narrowbody and widebody airplanes. However, the Covid-19 crisis has already forced severe production cuts across a range of seating capacities, and all signs point to a particularly dim outlook for the widebody segment as analysts with the International Air Transport Association project a particularly slow recovery of long-haul travel.

As Airbus, for one, signals an interest in harnessing hydrogen power for its next generation of narrowbody airplanes, potential applications for a small UltraFan appear less promising. At one time considered a contender for the since-scrapped Boeing middle-of-the-market NMA, Rolls-Royce withdrew from that competition in early 2019 after citing timetable pressures. At the time, Boeing had targeted a 2020 launch as it eyed a 2025 entry into service, leaving the still-nascent UltraFan unviable.

Now, the short lead time the NMA would have left Rolls has become irrelevant, as Boeing considers still another alternative to the segment of the market it had covered for many years with the 757. In any case, such a medium-capacity airplane appears unlikely to reach the market until late in the decade, leaving Rolls-Royce and the other engine OEMs ample time to react.

“At the end of testing we will have a commanding position to address future aircraft programs,” insisted Rolls.

Rolls-Royce engineers in Derby, UK, prepare to test the UltraFan's composite fan system.

Rolls-Royce engineers in Derby, UK, prepare to test the UltraFan's composite fan system.