RAF sets world record for first successful flight using only synthetic fuel

Earlier this month, the RAF completed the first flight powered by synthetic gasoline, which could save up to 90% of carbon per flight.

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

An Ikarus C42 microlight aircraft fuelled by the new synthetic fuel was flown by Group Captain Peter ‘Willy’ Hackett on a short flight out of Kemble Airfield in Cotswold Airport.

The synthetic UL91 fuel was manufactured in Orkney by extracting hydrogen from water and carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide, and combining the ingredients using locally generated wind, tidal and wave energy. 

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.

The Chief Marshal is determined to tackle this head-on by setting 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,’ he said.

The innovation is significant as many RAF high-performance aircraft require a liquid fuel alternative and cannot rely on green technologies like electric and hydrogen power generation.

The synthetic gasoline was developed ‘in just five months’ and ran successfully in the aircraft without any modification to the plane or the engine according to Paddy Lowe, the chief operating officer of Zero Petroleum.

Lowe added that measurements of the engine following the test flight ‘showed no difference in power or general performance compared to standard fossil fuel’.

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. Early data from the Ministry of Defence shows that this fuel has the potential to save between 80-90% of carbon used per flight.

Jeremy Quin, Minister for Defence Procurement said that the flight ‘shows the determination of UK Armed Forces to drive forward creative ideas on net zero alongside meeting operational commitments. 

In line with the government’s Net Zero by 2050 goal, the RAF plans for its first net-zero airbase by 2025, and a net-zero force by 2040.

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