Rolls-Royce builds aircraft engines, not aircraft (or autos—that’s Rolls-Royce Motorcars, which has been a completely separate entity for the last 20 years). The company therefore expects to partner with an airframer as it continues developing the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) concept that it introduced earlier this week at the Farnborough International Airshow in England—where the Aston Martin Volante Vision Concept, created in partnership with Rolls-Royce, also debuted.
Many aircraft makers will be familiar with the engine used in the vehicle’s current design. The M250 and its earlier variants have powered more than 170 different helicopter and airplane models (civilian and military), according to Rolls-Royce. It’s a gas turbine model that, in the concept’s current design, is positioned in the rear of the vehicle and is modified to serve as part of a hybrid gas-electric propulsion system. The engine generates electricity that powers six propellers, and the electricity can be stored in a battery that is charged by the engine.
The wings, which hold four of the propellers, rotate 90 degrees so that the vehicle can take off and land vertically. (The tilt-rotor design has been around since at least the mid-1980s, when Bell Helicopter and Boeing began developing the V-22 Osprey, which has been powered by a Rolls-Royce engine.) Once the aircraft reaches its cruising altitude, the two rear propellers provide the thrust, while the propellers on the wings fold away, reducing drag and cabin noise.
In the configuration presented at Farnborough, the vehicle seats four or five passengers. It will travel as fast as 250 mph for about 500 miles, according to Roll-Royce. Though the vehicle has been described as an air taxi, the company notes that it could be used for personal transportation. Variations on the design would make it suitable for moving cargo or for military purposes.
The company says that once it establishes the necessary partnerships, it could build a flying prototype within 18 months and bring the aircraft into service by the early 2020s.