Rolls-Royce Set To Pause UltraFan Engine Program Next Year

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Rolls-Royce is currently building its first UltraFan engine demonstrator, scheduled to begin testing by the end of this year. However, once testing concludes in 2022, the company could put its largest-ever engine on ice while it monitors the requirements of aircraft manufacturers.

Rolls-Royce could halt its UltraFan project until the launch of a new aircraft program. Photo: Rolls-Royce

Will depend on new aircraft launches

Despite having invested close to £500 million ($682 million) into developing a demonstrator for its UltraFan project, Rolls-Royce now says it could pause the program in 2022.

The British powerplant manufacturer will put the project “on ice” as soon as testing finishes. The company’s CEO, Warren East, says any further investment will be halted until a new aircraft program is launched. 

“We absolutely intend to . . . complete the phase we are in at the moment, which is to create and fully test our demonstrator. But at that point, we will put the thing on ice,” Mr East said in a recent interview with the Financial Times.

The Rolls-Royce CEO further emphasized that he was not in a position to force airframe manufactures to invent new airplanes. If there is no demand for the latter, then neither is there a demand for new engines, Mr East said.

Rolls-Royce UltraFan
The first demonstrator will be ready for testing by the end of 2021. Photo: Rolls-Royce

Testing to begin in Derby by the end of 2021

The UltraFan engine is the largest Rolls-Royce powerplant to date. It is also targeting 25% greater fuel-efficiency and similar levels of fewer emissions compared to the company’s first-generation Trent turbofans. Its blades are made from composite materials and have a diameter of 140 inches.

The project was announced in 2014 with the intention of having the engine commercially available by 2025. Its first demonstrator engine is scheduled to begin ground testing by the end of 2021 at the manufacturer’s new purpose-built Testbed 80 in Derby, UK.

Rolls-Royce UltraFan Engine
The program could be “re-phased” depending on aircraft manufacturers’ demands, the company says. Photo: Rolls-Royce

Monitoring customer requirements

While the ongoing crisis has put a wrench in plans and, potentially, the quest for an industrial partner for the technology, Rolls-Royce says it still intends to have a product ready by 2030. Meanwhile, what becomes of it will depend on the planemakers.

“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 shared with Simple Flying.

“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 currently holds about 18% of the aircraft engine market. However, its engines power only widebody aircraft, making it particularly vulnerable to the current crisis. The technology of the UltraFan’s adaptable thrust-range is meant to help it return to the narrowbody segment.

What do you think, will there be enough demand for the UltraFan engine for the project to continue beyond the testing phase? Let us know in the comments. 

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