Rolls-Royce eyes ‘hypersonic’ flight as it partners with Reaction Engines

Linda J. Dodson

Electric airliners and jets flying at five times the speed of sound could be a reality within a decade after Rolls-Royce linked up with Reaction Engines, a British business which is pushing the limits of aerospace technology.

The companies have agreed a strategic partnership to investigate how Reaction Engines’ designs can be used in high-speed aircraft, and how its groundbreaking cooling technology can be integrated into military and civil aircraft.

Oxfordshire-based Reaction Engines has developed a “Sabre” engine capable of operating at more than 2,500mph and which combines a conventional gas turbine with the properties of a rocket. This means it can work like a normal jet but switch to rocket-mode fuelled by liquified oxygen at high altitude where the air thins out.

A key part of the design is a super-efficient heat exchanger which is light and compact enough to be used in aerospace.

Managing heat generated at high speeds is a vital for supersonic flight and also has spin-off uses such as cooling, a major challenge for developing electric aircraft. It has extensive applications in the automotive world.

Mark Thomas, chief executive, said: “Our design has demonstrated cooling of 900C in less time than the blink of an eye. We can take air from temperature of molten lava to a level where you could comfortably stand in it.”

The partnership will also see Rolls pump £20m into privately owned Reaction Engines, making the famed engineer one of its biggest shareholders, alongside BAE Systems. Other investors include Boeing and investment fund Baillie Gifford.

Mr Thomas added: “This is an endorsement of our technology from one of the biggest companies in the industry at a time when the whole sector is going a tough period.

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