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Wankel Rotary Engines – Isn’t Wankel rotary engine technology dead? Haven’t they all disappeared?

Far from it. In fact, Wankel rotary engines are very much alive and kicking and are currently being used in Automotive, Aerospace, and Marine applications worldwide.

Animation of a Wankel rotary engine - 40s from aie uk

While most people associate Wankel rotary engines with past vehicles such the Mazda RX7 & RX8 and Norton rotary motorcycles of the 1980s, the fact is Wankel engines have and are still currently used in everything from snowmobiles to speedboats to aeroplanes and even space vehicle launch systems, therefore rather than a failed obsolete technology, Wankel engines have been hugely successful in niche applications. These are typically applications that require ultra-small form factor, very low weight and high power density.

AIE’s 650S Wankel rotary engine in a Westfield blue frame
AIE’s 650S Wankel rotary engine in a Westfield Sports Car

One of the core markets for Wankel engines over the last 30 to 40 years has been unmanned aerospace (RPV’s and UAV’s). The UK, in particular, has led the world in developing engines for this application and in doing so has demonstrated the Wankel rotaries’ superiority over piston reciprocating engines. Rotaries typically outperform piston reciprocating engines in endurance, performance, and simplicity of operation and maintenance; this has led to its selection for use in some of the world’s most successful UAV projects including Textron’s Shadow platforms and the UK’s own Watchkeeper programme.


Rather than a failed obsolete technology, Wankel engines have been hugely successful in niche applications.

Advanced Innovative Engineering as a company has built on this UK track record of success in Wankel rotary engines and since its formation in 2012 developed a range of cutting-edge engines designed specifically to meet the needs of 21st century OEM’s, integrators and applications.

AIE’s ambitions do not solely lie in the growing unmanned sector though; our goal is to explore all potential applications in the aerospace, automotive and marine sectors that we believe can benefit from the rotary engine’s unrivalled strengths.

This article is part of a question and answer series which can be found at: Ten inaccurate preconceptions about Wankel rotary engines discussed

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