Rolls-Royce has carried out a successful test flight of its 747 flying testbed aircraft using 100 percent Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) in a Trent 1000 turbofan, the engine company said Tuesday. The aircraft flew from Tucson International Airport in Arizona, passing over New Mexico and Texas, carrying a Trent 1000 engine running on unblended SAF while the remaining three RB211 engines ran on standard jet fuel, arriving back in Tucson three hours and 54 minutes later. Partnering with Boeing and SAF producer World Energy, Rolls Royce reported that the tests showed no “initial indications” of engineering issues.
The validation of this most recent testing adds to data collected during similar tests on Rolls-Royce’s Trent XWB and Pearl engines, both on the ground and in the air. While calling for further ambition and collaboration across the aviation sector and governments to ensure long-haul aviation meets the goals set by the UN Race to Zero, the company last week confirmed plans to make all its Trent engines compatible with 100 percent SAF by 2023.
Under current certification limits, aircraft now can operate on a maximum of 50 percent SAF.
Rolls-Royce carried out the flight in collaboration with Boeing, which provided technical support and oversight on aircraft modifications and assurance the aircraft systems would operate as expected with 100 percent SAF. World Energy provided the low-carbon fuel for the flight.
The Biden Administration signaled its recognition of the need to boost SAF production with the launch of a SAF "Grand Challenge" to produce 3 billion gallons of the fuel a year by 2030 as part of a wider aviation climate action plan the White House expects to release in the coming months. The European Commission has proposed what it calls ReFuelEU Aviation, which would mandate the incorporation of SAF supplies at EU airports and increase the supply to 63 percent by 2050.
“We believe in air travel as a force for cultural good, but we also recognize the need to take action to decarbonize our industry,” said Rolls-Royce director of product development and technology Simon Burr. “This flight is another example of collaboration across the value chain to make sure all the aircraft technology solutions are in place to enable a smooth introduction of 100 percent SAF into our industry.”