Tempest, a sixth-generation fighter jet, will fly into battle accompanied by a swarm of wingmen similar to drones, and will be equipped with hypersonic and laser weapons. Over the last five years Rolls-Royce has been pioneering world-first technology that will contribute to the programme. And developers working for Rolls-Royce, one of four industrial partners which make up Team Tempest, the umbrella organisation tasked with delivering the project, are working on innovative ways to harness the enormous amounts of power the plane will need to harness.
Even prior to the launch of the Tempest programme, Rolls-Royce had already begun to address the demands of the future, taking up the challenge of designing an electrical starter generator which was fully embedded in the core of a gas turbine engine, now known as the Embedded Electrical Starter Generator or E2SG demonstrator programme.
Conrad Banks, Chief Engineer for Future Programmes at Rolls-Royce said: “The electrical embedded starter-generator will save space and provide the large amount of electrical power required by future fighters.
“Existing aircraft engines generate power through a gearbox underneath the engine, which drives a generator.
Tempest Fighter Jet: The plan is to deploy the aircraft by 2035
Then-Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson launches the project in 2018
“In addition to adding moving parts and complexity, the space required outside the engine for the gearbox and generator makes the airframe larger, which is undesirable in a stealthy platform.”
Phase two of the programme has now been adopted as part of Rolls-Royce’s contribution to the Tempest programme, a company spokeswoman explained.
She added: “As part of this journey, the company has been continuously developing its capabilities in the aerospace market, from gas turbine technologies through to integrated power and propulsion systems.”
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An artist’s impression of what the distinctive aircraft will look like
The goal was to provide not only the thrust which propels an aircraft through the sky, but also the electrical power required for all the systems on board as well as managing all the resulting thermal loads.
She said: “Rolls-Royce is adapting to the reality that all future vehicles, whether on land, in the air or at sea will have significantly increased levels of electrification to power sensors, communications systems, weapons, actuation systems and accessories, as well as the usual array of avionics.”
Rolls Royce has already invested significant amounts of money in an integrated electrical facility – a unique test house where gas turbine engines can be physically connected to a DC electrical network.
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Another view at New Scientist Live
A Tempest model at the New Scientist Live festival this year
The launch of the second phase of the project in 2017 saw the inclusion of a second electrical generator connected to the other spool of the engine, as well as an energy storage system in the electrical network and the ability to intelligently manage the supply of power between all these systems.
The system also incorporates aspects of artificial intelligence via the Power Manager intelligent control system, which uses algorithms to make real time intelligent decisions about how to supply the current aircraft electrical demand while optimising other factors including engine efficiency.
The spokeswoman added: “Throughout the Tempest programme, Rolls-Royce will be continuing to mature the electrical technologies demonstrated by the E2SG programme, with a third phase of testing likely to include a novel thermal management system being integrated with the overall system, as well as more electric engine accessories.
Meanwhile a sneak preview is also in the pipeline she said, adding: “The company also intends to showcase a full-scale demonstrator of an advanced power and propulsion system.
“There will be new technologies in all parts of the gas turbine, including twin spool embedded generation to higher power levels, an advanced thermal management system, an energy storage system tailored to the expected duty cycle of the future fighter and an intelligent power management system which will be able to optimise the performance of both the gas turbine and the power and thermal management system.”
Another of the Team Tempest partners, BAE Systems, is developing groundbreaking technology which will enable pilots to communicate with the futuristic aircraft telepathically.
The experimental research involves electroencephalogram (EEG) caps which track the brain waves of test subjects.
Suzy Broadbent, BAE Systems’ Human Factors Lead, said: “At the moment it’s very much subjective opinion – it’s up to the pilot what they think is going on and data is captured in a debrief session afterwards.”
Nevertheless, data gathered in such a way would enable allow pilots to devote their attention to crucial tasks, as well as helping in a crisis, for example, if he or she missed an alarm or alert, Ms Broadbent explained.
She added: “The machine could either take over, or present the information to you in a different way, or hand control back to somebody on the ground.”