The Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engine has helped the Royal Air Force (RAF) and industry partners to carry out a world-first 100% sustainable fuel flight using a military aircraft of its size, and the first of any aircraft type in the UK.
An RAF Voyager – the military variant of an Airbus A330 – took to the skies over Oxfordshire powered entirely by 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).
The flight was a joint endeavor between the RAF, DE&S and industry partners Rolls-Royce, Airbus and AirTanker, with the fuel supplied by Air bp. The companies believe this flight will pave the way for a range of possibilities for the future of flying military and civilian aircraft.
According to Rolls-Royce, the company played a vital role in enabling the flight to take place by securing the technical approval for sustainable aviation fuel use on the Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engine which powers the RAF Voyager fleet.
Prior to the Voyager flight, Rolls-Royce conducted a number of successful trials with sustainable aviation fuel on aircraft powered by their engines. This forms part of the organizational commitment to demonstrate sustainable aviation fuel compatibility on its products as part of the organization’s net zero roadmap.
“Across Rolls-Royce we are committed to partnering with our customers to help them become more resilient to climate change. Ensuring our engines are compatible with sustainable aviation fuel is just one of the ways we are doing this,” said Alex Zino, Executive Vice President Business Development and Future Programs, Rolls-Royce. “This flight demonstrates what we can achieve through effective collaboration between industry and our armed forces customers, and I am delighted to see that those partnerships have enabled this achievement to take place.”
According to Rolls-Royce, sustainable aviation fuel – which is made from waste-based sustainable feedstocks, such as used cooking oil – reduces lifecycle carbon emissions on average by up to 80% compared to the conventional jet fuel it replaces, lessening the RAF’s reliance on global supply chains and improving operational resilience.
“The Royal Air Force has flown the UK’s first military air transport flight using 100% sustainable aviation fuel on one of their operational Voyager aircraft. They should be rightly proud of this achievement; it is a breakthrough moment for the RAF and an exciting development for the MoD,” said Defense Minister Baroness Goldie. “Through the RAF’s pioneering spirit, expertise and partnership with UK industry, British science and engineering is leading the way in improving operational resilience and developing future operating capability in a climate-changed world.”
Different approaches will suit different platforms and environments. As such, a range of alternative fuel options are being looked at to ensure the UK is at the forefront of this developing technology.
This success follows the November 2021 small aircraft UK flight powered by 15 liters of synthetic gasoline – another world-first led by the RAF. This synthetic fuel is made from water and carbon dioxide, which is then put under pressure and an electric current run through it.
The 90-minute flight from RAF Brize Norton, flown by a combined RAF, Rolls-Royce and Airbus flight test crew, replicated an air-to-air refueling sortie and was witnessed by senior RAF and industry representatives. It demonstrated the RAF’s potential for its future operational capability, ensuring the ability to contribute to UK defense wherever and whenever required.
“Climate change is a transnational challenge that threatens our resilience, our security and our collective prosperity. That is why I have set the RAF the ambitious challenge of becoming the world’s first net-zero Air Force by 2040. The way we power our aircraft will be key to meeting that challenge and the RAF is already thinking about how we will operate beyond fossil fuels,” said Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston. “This exciting trial flight of a Voyager from RAF Brize Norton powered entirely by Sustainable Aviation Fuel is an important milestone on that journey, and marks another technological first for the RAF alongside our industry partners.”
Engineers from Airbus’ Commercial Aircraft and Defense and Space divisions have been working with the RAF, Rolls-Royce and Airtanker testing the aircraft’s performance and handling on the ground and in the air in preparation for the final flight with both engines powered by 100% SAF.
“Our Jet Zero Strategy made clear that sustainable aviation fuels are key to green flight for both military and civilian aviation,” Aviation Minister at the Department for Transport, Baroness Vere said. “This is a win for the planet and a testament to British ingenuity. We have launched the £165 million Advanced Fuels Fund to kickstart a homegrown SAF industry, as well as challenging the sector to deliver the first net zero transatlantic flight next year.”
According to the RAF, this test flight is just one of the ways it is actively working to reduce lifecycle carbon emissions produced by flying its aircraft. Other innovations have included a world-first, record breaking microlight flight using synthetic fuel, flying an electric aircraft at RAF Cranwell and creating fuel from genetically modified bacteria.
While continuing to fulfil the priority focus of protecting the nation, the sustainable aviation fuel could mark a step-change towards the RAF’s goal to be Net Zero by 2040. Working towards the Government’s Net Zero 2050 goal and Jet Zero Strategy, the RAF also plans for its first Net Zero airbase by 2025.