World record for RAF as first flight powered by synthetic fuel takes to the skies

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Pictured: Centre - RAF Group Captain Peter 'Willy' Hackett with Guiness World Records adjudicator Glenn Pollard after successful completion of the first flight using synthetic aviation fuel at Kemble Airfield, Cotswold Airport. Photo: Cpl Cathy Sharples [RAuxAF] UK MOD © Crown copyright 2021

The RAF and Zero Petroleum have won a Guinness World Record for the world’s first successful flight using only synthetic fuel.

In a world-first, an Ikarus C42 microlight aircraft flown by Group Captain Peter Hackett, completed a short flight powered by synthetic gasoline at Cotswold Airport earlier this month.

Photo: Cpl Cathy Sharples [RAuxAF] – UK MOD © Crown copyright 2021

Zero Petroleum’s synthetic UL91 fuel is manufactured by extracting hydrogen from water and carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide. Using energy generated from renewable sources like wind or solar, these are combined to create the synthetic fuel.

This innovation is part of the RAF’s Project MARTIN and has the potential to save 80-90% of carbon per flight, supporting the RAF’s vision that synthetic fuels will have a major role in powering the fast jets of the future.

Minister for Defence Procurement, Jeremy Quin said:

“This is a world first ‘innovation’. It shows the determination of UK Armed Forces to drive forward creative ideas on Net Zero alongside meeting operational commitments.”

Whilst green technologies like electric and hydrogen power generation are viable for many RAF platforms, high-performance aircraft require a liquid fuel alternative, like the UL91, to maintain operational capabilities.

This is the first innovation of many, with a range of research and development activities underway to consider the viability of synthetic fuels without compromising aircraft performance.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston KCB CBE ADC Chief of the Air Staff said:

“Climate change is a transnational challenge which threatens global resilience and our shared security and prosperity. I am determined to tackle this head on and have set the Royal Air Force the ambitious goal to be Net Zero by 2040. The way we power our aircraft will be a big part of achieving that goal, and this exciting project to make aviation fuel from air and water shows how it might be done.

“I am delighted at the award of this world record and to see the Royal Air Force yet again at the leading edge of innovation and technology.”

Prior to the ground-breaking flight, the synthetic fuel was tested extensively with CFS Aero. The engine performed as if it were running fossil fuel but ran at a lower temperature. This means using synthetic fuel could also increase engine lifespan as well as a significant carbon saving.

Paddy Lowe, CEO Zero Petroleum said:

“This unique project with the Royal Air Force demonstrates the validity of our synthetic fuel and the potential it has to eliminate fossil CO2 emissions from a number of difficult but critical sectors, including transport which currently accounts for 23% of the global total.

“We are particularly proud of the fact that our high-grade aviation gasoline ZERO® SynAvGas was developed in just five months and ran successfully in the aircraft as a whole-blend without any modification whatsoever to the aircraft or the engine. The engine manufacturer Rotax’s measurements and the test pilot’s observations showed no difference in power or general performance compared to standard fossil fuel.”

This revolutionary breakthrough underscores the MOD’s solution-based approach to addressing climate change issues whilst remaining agile in a world of evolving threats. It supports ambitions laid out in the Defence Command Paper and is backed by the £24 billion defence settlement, including a £6.6 billion R&D investment.

Working towards the Government’s Net Zero by 2050 goal, the RAF plans for their first Net Zero airbase by 2025, and goal of a Net Zero force by 2040.

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