December 9, 2021

RAF completes world first flight with synthetic fuel

Jon Robinson

The British Royal Air Force (RAF) recently completed what is being described as the world’s first flight using 100 per cent synthetic fuel. The flight took place on November 2, 2021, in Great Britain with a Rotax-powered Comco Ikarus C42 microlight aircraft.

Prior to the flight, Zero Petroleum’s synthetic fuel was extensively texted by CFS Aeroproducts Ltd, the UK Distributor and Authorized Service Centre for Rotax Aircraft engines. From this testing, Rotax explains the engine performed as though running on fossil fuels, but ran at lower temperatures, suggesting that the synthetic fuel could increase engine lifespans while reducing carbon emissions.

Officials from both CFS Aeroproducts and Zero Petroleum stated that power and torque curves closely match between what is now being called ZERO SynAvGas and UL91 fossil fuel. The synthetic fuel could also save up to 90 per cent carbon per flight, explains Rotax.

The innovation behind the synthetic-fuel powered flight comes from the RAF’s Project MARTIN, which was initiated by the Rapid Capabilities Office in June 2021. Jeremy Quin, Minister for Defence Procurement said that the flight was “a world first innovation and that it shows the determination of UK Armed Forces to drive forward creative ideas on net zero alongside meeting operational commitments.”

“We are proud to be part of this world record flight,” said Peter Oelsinger, General Manager BRP-Rotax / Member of the Management Board, Vice President Sales, Marketing RPS-Business & Communications. “The multi-fuel capability of our aircraft engines, that are able to fly with unleaded, leaded MOGAS or AVGAS fuel provides the perfect match for such an innovative project like this.”

The gasoline was manufactured in Orkney by extracting hydrogen from water and carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide, and combining these ingredients using locally generated wind, and tide and wave energy. Rotax explains this process can also be used to create a range of “drop-in” fuels, which are a substitute for fossil-based aviation fuels and require no engine modification. Paddy Lowe, the chief operating officer of Zero Petroleum, explains that the synthetic gasoline had been developed “in just five months” and yet it ran successfully in the aircraft without any modification to the plane or the engine.

Leveraging this innovation and working towards the government’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050, the RAF has set an internal goal of becoming a net zero force by 2040 with its first net zero airbase by 2025.

(Photo: Rotax)