Engineering pioneer sets out future of electric flight in new video

2 min read

The electrification of air travel is one of the toughest challenges we face in our push toward reaching Net Zero. Fortunately, innovation and passion for the challenge of transforming air flight are in the blood of Dr Tim Woolmer—someone who’s been at the vanguard of the electric revolution for the past 15 years.

As a student at Oxford University, Dr Woolmer invented a new type of electric motor based on the axial-flux design —providing one of the key innovations on which our ability to electrify air flight will hinge, an electric motor with a dramatically improved power-to-weight ratio.

After spinning out YASA from the University of Oxford in 2009, the company - where he's founder and CTO - secured OEM deals with automotive brands including Ferrari before being acquired by Mercedes-Benz in 2021. Headquartered in Yarnton, Oxford, YASA is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, providing the electric motors for the German automotive giant’s AMG.EA electric-only platform, playing a pivotal role in Mercedes-Benz’s plan to become fully electric by 2030.

Prior to its acquisition by Mercedes, YASA spun out and renamed its aerospace division as a separate entity (www.evolito.aero) to address the rapidly emerging electric aviation market - in particular for electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOL) and electric General Aviation’s ‘fixed wing’ requirements (where the motors can be stacked).

As revealed in a new video released by Evolito, Dr Woolmer (who is a director of the company) is continuing the aerospace innovation journey started by his grandfather and engineering hero Bob Feilden - a member of Frank Whittle's legendary WWII team which invented the first jet engines. Dr Woolmer explains:

“It’s an incredible bit of history that 80 years later, I’ve had the privilege of working on the first electric aircraft to travel at these kinds of speeds.

“I think my grandfather would be immensely proud, and I think he’d be fascinated in the way technology is evolving as well.

“It was around 80 years ago that the first flight was taken with jet engines, and I think if we scroll forward, <electric flight> will be a complete transformation of this industry.”

The speed to which Dr Woolmer refers is the 354.5mph clocked by the Rolls Royce ACCEL project to break the world record for the fastest electric plane - using three YASA 750 axial-flux motors in the nose cone of a plane appropriately dubbed ‘Spirit of Innovation’.

To say Spirit of Innovation ‘broke’ the world record is putting it lightly. Smashing is perhaps more accurate, with the previous record being bested by an additional 132mph.

There’s an air of destiny about the grandson of one of the inventors of the jet engine going on to invent a new kind of electric motor that will transform flight once again - and potentially define the modern age as the jet engine once did. Whether destiny played a role or not, Dr Woolmer is clearly a man on a mission - staring down the great engineering challenge of our lifetime: electric flight. But having already been proven in automotive, both the Evolito team and the technology are ready.

“It’s difficult. Aeroplanes require a lot of energy, and they require a lot of power. And so, this makes the engineering challenge one of the most difficult ones to meet,” says Dr Woolmer. “But engineers love difficult challenges. So we’ve got a fascinating ten years ahead.”