03 January, 2020

Island-hopping on batteries.........the story of Project Fresson

In the still-emerging world of aviation electrification, learning is good, whether that be pure research, learning by doing, or involvements in projects that rapidly go into service.

For Rolls-Royce, Project Fresson combines all three elements and adds to its already established position as an electrification pioneer.

The programme, run by Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, involves the design, manufacture and integrate a hybrid-electric propulsion system into a 9-seat Britten-Norman (B-N) Islander aircraft, which is typically used on short flights such as island-hopping routes in Scotland, with the Orkney Islands one particular example.

The ultimate goal is to deliver the first commercial passenger-carrying all-electric aircraft service in the UK, marking a significant breakthrough for all-electric propulsion. Conventional engines will still be available for the aircraft’s longer-range flights.

Project Fresson is expected to take two and a half years, with a fully developed prototype taking to the skies by mid-2022, making it the first fully electric passenger-carrying plane in the UK and one of only a small number being developed across the world.

The power management system is the brains behind the aircraft’s energy systems which optimises the supply of power to the electric engines from the batteries and conventional engine to maximise performance and environmental benefit.

Alan Newby, Rolls-Royce, Director, Aerospace Technology & Future Programmes said: “We are excited to be involved in this project, which combines our commitment to support the de-carbonisation of aviation with our ability to solve complex problems with pioneering solutions. Project Fresson is another valuable opportunity for us to remain a leader in delivering the electrification of flight, an important part of our sustainability strategy.”

Project Fresson has now received a grant of £9 million to design, manufacture and integrate a hybrid-electric propulsion system into the aircraft, through the ATI Programme: a partnership of the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), the Department for Business, Energy & Industry Strategy, and Innovate UK to maintain and grow the UK’s competitive position in civil aerospace design and manufacture.

Paul Hutton CAeS CEO, said: “The results of this exciting electric aircraft demonstrator project can be rapidly developed into an EASA/CAA (European Aviation Safety Agency/Civil Aviation Authority) certified modification kit, enabling the UK to lead the way with the first passenger-carrying sub-regional aircraft capable of all-electric flight. The strength of the industrial partners involved in this project, are underpinned by the world-class aerospace/manufacturing research capabilities of Cranfield University. This is going to accelerate our green transport revolution.”

William Hynett, Chief Executive of Britten-Norman, said: “At Britten-Norman we are committed to innovation which we support through a dedicated Research & Development team. Our team is looking forward to working closely with Cranfield Aerospace Solutions and its other partners in driving forward this industry-leading green initiative programme for the electrification of the Islander.”

“Our aircraft makes an ideal launch platform for this programme due to its renowned reliability and adaptability. We remain highly enthusiastic about the prospects of bringing this important capability to our vitally important short-sector market.”

Following the demonstrator project, CAeS will go on to certify the modification through EASA to obtain a Supplemental Type Certificate. This will then be immediately available in the global market, allowing the current operators of the 400+ B-N Islanders to convert their aircraft reducing operating costs and their carbon footprint.

In follow-on phases of CAeS’s green aircraft strategy the intention is to design and implement a similar modification, this time to a larger existing 19-seat sub-regional aircraft type, continuing with partners to design and build a new 19-seat aircraft. The design of the new aircraft will be optimised for emission-free propulsion, making use of the certified propulsion systems architecture from the earlier phases.

What’s behind the name?

Project Fresson takes its name from a Scottish pioneer, Captain Ernest Edmund (Ted) Fresson. Working in China as an engineer before and after World War One, during which he trained to be a pilot in Canada, he returned to the UK in 1927, giving joy rides to the public in what was still a highly novel form of transport, using improvised “airfields”.

Those flights took on a more formal form in 1933 when Fresson set up Highland Airways, serving the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, with the very first service connecting Inverness, Wick and Kirwall. The following year he was awarded the very first Royal Mail domestic airmail contract. During World War Two Fresson advised the Air Ministry on the positioning of military airfields in Scotland.

After the war, in 1947, the airline, now part of Scottish Airways, was incorporated into the newly-nationalised British European Airways operation.

Fresson, who died in 1963, is remembered at Inverness Airport, where there is a statue of him in the arrivals area, and also at the Highland Aviation Museum where there is a display about his work.

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