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Aerospace Industry News

Carbon nanotube 'webs' prevent ice build-up on planes

Queen's University Belfast researchers have developed a new system to prevent ice from building up on aircraft. The conventional anti-icing system on most passenger aircraft is based on hot air which is 'bled' from the engines and piped to the inner surface of the wing. The heat is then transferred to the outer surface by thermal conduction, which stops the ice from building. This system adds weight and maintenance requirements, and is not energy efficient, particularly on the new generation of composite aircraft. A team of experts at Queen's have developed a more efficient alternative - an ultra-light weight heater, based on 'webs' made from carbon nanotubes (CNT) - which can also be used for de-icing. Professor Brian Falzon, from the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering led the Queen's team to the discovery and the research has been published in the journal Carbon. He explains: "This research is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and forms part of a larger research programme aimed at developing the aircraft structures of tomorrow. We started by creating a 'CNT web', where individual CNTs are aligned in the draw direction, and horizontally stacking 10-40 layers of the webs, at different orientations, to achieve the desired heating characteristics. Each layer of CNT web can be as thin as 1/2000 the thickness of a human hair and the weight of a web large enough to cover a football field would be less than 30 sheets of A4 photocopy paper. These CNT webs were cured within a thin glass fibre laminate to provide structural support, and connected to a power supply. When we carried out testing, we discovered that the newly developed CNT heaters achieved rapid heating which shows that the CNT heaters could quickly de-ice aircraft and provide effective ice protection in flight." The team is developing further research on the system and it is hoped that it will be in use within a few years.

DPA, 3rd December, 2018


Airbus Helicopters grows at Kobe

Airbus Helicopters will expand its MRO centre at Kobe Airport in Japan, boosting its capacity to 40 medium-sized rotorcraft from 25 currently. Construction will start in June 2019 and be completed by November 2019, according to Airbus. It will include a hangar, office space and warehousing.

Flight International, 4-10 Dec. 2018. p.4.


Bombardier builds Airbus wing hopes

Bombardier will pitch to play a key role in a future Airbus composite wing programme, believing that its expertise in designing and building the carbon fibre wing for the A220 gives it the edge over Airbus's own factories. The Belfast facility has been pioneering composite technologies since it was Shorts Aerospace in the 1980s. Airbus took control of the former CSeries in July, renaming it the A220, and effectively allowing Bombardier to exit from a loss-making commitment. However, Bombardier retains the intellectual property rights on the wing, which BAES in Belfast continues to build for Airbus as a supplier. The Belfast operation, together with Airbus's own wing operations in Broughton and Filton, remain crucial to government efforts to keep wing production in the UK following Brexit.

Flight International, 4-10 Dec. 2018. p.4.


Putting hybrid-electric aircraft performance to the test

Although hybrid-electric cars are becoming commonplace, similar technology applied to airplanes comes with significantly different challenges. University of Illinois aerospace engineers are addressing some of them toward the development of a more sustainable alternative to fossil fuels to power airplanes. Researcher Paul Ansell said adding more batteries to fly farther may seem logical, but it works against the goal to make an aircraft as lightweight as possible. He added that, overall, a hybrid-electric drivetrain can lead to substantial improvements in fuel efficiency of a given aircraft configuration, though these gains depend strongly on the coupled variations in the degree of drivetrain electrification and the required mission range. Both of these factors influence the weight allocation of battery and fuel systems, as well as the weight scaling imposed by internal combustion engine and electrical motor components. In general, to obtain the greatest fuel efficiency a hybrid architecture should be used with as much electrification in the drivetrain as is permissible within a given range requirement. The fuel efficiency improvements were shown to particularly shine for short-range missions, which is a good thing since range limitations serve as one of the key bottlenecks in hybrid aircraft feasibility.


Aviation safety: Vodafone, EASA test protection system against drones

Because drones are increasingly posing a threat to the air traffic in the vicinity of airports, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and telecommunications provider Vodafone are testing ways in which security forces can take over control of them. The partners are working together on a digital protection system for European air traffic. In the Aldenhoven 5G Mobility Lab, they have for the first time in Europe tested the remote control of drones outside the field of vision via mobile radio. In an emergency, drones will also be able to be piloted away from security zones by authorised personnel. In the 5G Mobility Lab, Vodafone demonstrated how mobile radio can make drone flights over long distances safer. This supports one of EASA's central goals. A digital system is to ensure that drones can be located and monitored if they fly outside the owner's range of vision and are not detected by radar. In the future, digital security zones will also be set up at sensitive locations such as schools, hospitals, prisons and airports.


'Ionic wind'-propelled aircraft flies with no moving parts

In recent years, ion drive has become a reality for spacecraft, with six missions now using this form of propulsion, including the gravity wave detector Lisa Pathfinder and the recently-launched BepiColumbo spacecraft, which will use an ion drive in its approach to Mercury. Now, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claim to have installed an ion drive for the first time in an aircraft. The as-yet-unnamed aircraft would be the first ever to fly using a propulsion system with no moving parts. Resembling a large glider, the aircraft has a 5m wingspan and weighs just over 2kg. The drive system consists of two sets of wires, stretched taut underneath the leading and trailing edges of the wings, with the front set somewhat thinner than those at the rear. These are connected to a stack of lithium-ion batteries housed in the aircraft fuselage, which in turn is connected to a lightweight power converter that supplies 40,000 V to the wires. This voltage positively charges the wires at the front of the wings, which attract and strip away electrons from surrounding molecules in the air. This creates positive ions that are attracted to the negatively charged wires at the rear of the wings. The moving ions collide with air molecules between the two wire arrays, creating an air current known as 'ionic wind' which, passing over the wings, creates a thrust that moves the aircraft forward.


All British 'eye in the sky' to tackle oil spills, illegal shipping and deforestation

The first images from a new satellite were released on November 23rd. The NovaSAR-1, the first Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite made entirely in the UK, can see through clouds and image the Earth 24 hours a day. Images can be used to detect oil spills and suspicious shipping activity, and monitor deforestation. The satellite, launched in September, tests a new platform for low-cost satellite imaging. The government invested £21M to assist the development of NovaSAR-1 and will benefit from access to its data, significantly boosting the UK's Earth observation capabilities and providing data to start-ups at the Satellite Applications Catapult in Oxfordshire. Partners signed up to receive data from NovaSAR-1 include the UK Space Agency, Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and the Indian Space Research Organisation. NovaSAR-1 was entirely made in Britain, being designed and manufactured by SSTL, with an SAR payload developed by Airbus Defence and Space in Portsmouth and an Automatic Identification Receiver supplied by Honeywell Aerospace. NovaSAR-1 is operated in orbit from SSTL's Spacecraft Operations Centre in Guildford UK.