Promising all-electric systems being developed for next-generation aircraft look set to transform the skies over Europe, reducing fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions and increasing competitiveness, according to EU-funded researchers.
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Early aviation pioneers were driven by an overriding passion to go higher, further, faster. Today, modern air transport in Europe focuses on delivering more affordable, safe, clean, quiet and comfortable aircraft, as part of a wider vision aimed at meeting societys needs and winning global leadership through world-class research and innovation.
In line with these goals, the EU-funded ACTUATION2015 project focused on a specific challenge facing complex aeronautics systems: how to perfect electromechanical actuators (EMA) to replace heavier, maintenance-intensive hydraulic circuits, pumps and reservoirs. An actuator is a component that moves or controls an aircraft mechanism or system.
The project developed and validated a common set of standardised and scalable EMAs that meet the cost and reliability demands of European air-frame engineers, says Marc-Olivier Legrand, the projects coordinator. Disruptive changes like all-electric systems in aircraft can rarely be done by one organisation, industrial sector, or even a single country acting alone, he adds.
Radical change like this needs the critical momentum that comes from large multi-stakeholder, multi-country consortia like ours, he says, crediting excellent collaborative spirit as one of the biggest surprise outcomes of the 54-partner project, despite many of them being direct competitors.
"Actual demonstrations and virtual actuators"
Dedicated prototypes were manufactured to test the reliability and interchangeability of the different EMA modules and actuators. Consortium members prepared four full EMA demonstrators for critical flight operations: rotary spoiler, high-lift system, e-braking system, and linear aileron. An additional nine virtual demonstrators, including complete replicas of the main landing gear and nose-wheel steering actuators, were developed.
Using advanced monitoring and prognostics, the project also produced valuable data on likely weak points in the EMA systems developed to identify maintenance needs before in-flight failures can occur.
Implementing fault tolerant systems and architecture like this was a vital part of the project to guarantee safety and boost take-up of our modules and tools, explains Legrand. It also encouraged us to develop a family of solutions using standardised designs, shared tools and common validation methods, which help to reduce over complexity, bulk, and resource cost in aircraft systems.
A major achievement was the release of the Modelica Actuator library, says Legrand. The reference library includes multilevel module modelling and design tools to help manufacturers with the validation of the standard modules power drive electronics, motors, and mechanics designed by ACTUATION2015 teams.
Several innovations, including the technical specifications of power drive electronics system and subsystems were made publicly available via the issue of a preliminary standard by the relevant international standardisation body.
The project achieved what it set out to do over five years ago. It developed a family of standardised, low-cost modular components for important actuator systems including flight controls, landing gear and cargo doors used in different types of systems and aircraft. Overall weight, reliability, technological maturity, and ease of installation and maintenance were also taken into consideration.
Altogether, ACTUATION2015 results look set to transform Europes skies and contribute to the removal of costly-to-maintain hydraulic circuits and weight reduction, while boosting innovation, leadership and competitiveness in the aeronautical transport sector.