The EUREKA initiative targets enhanced competitiveness in the EU, specifically pan-European projects that develop innovative products, processes and services. One of its latest endeavours deals with Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) certification for Wankel rotary engines in general aviation. The E! 2743 KERO project, backed by EUR 3.8 million in EU funding, is effectively supporting the partners’ plan to develop a reliable rotary engine for small planes running on standard kerosene jet fuel. Key partner and project leader Mistral Engines from Switzerland will supply a range of such engines for original equipment and retrofitting in light airplanes and helicopters.
The four-stroke piston engine technology found in most light airplanes is more than 60 years old, and their motors need between 70 to 80 moving parts. This was a problem that Mistral Engines recognised, and jumped at the chance to develop a safer, more reliable motor that could be easily adapted to any model of light aircraft, in addition to running on industry standard fuel. Till now, the Japanese carmaker Mazda was the only group successful in developing and commercialising the design for its RX-8 and its earlier models.
|Mistral’s Arrow III in flight.|
© Mistral Engines
The aviation industry depends on safety and reliability. The Wankel engine is unique in that it is equipped with a rotor, rather than reciprocating pistons. The end result is a motor that does not need pistons, valves and crankshafts, with the number of moving parts reduced to only two or three robust ones. While cutting back the number of parts provides reliability and safety, running the rotary engine in a fuel efficient manner is a complex matter.
The rotary engine for lighter aircraft is not a novel idea and a number of US-based car aficionados have adapted car engines for this purpose. Taking this into consideration, Mistral Engines ‘decided to take the Mazda rotary engine block and to build an aero engine around it that could be retrofitted to all aircraft,’ said Claude Geles, chairman and co-founder of the Swiss group.
‘Mounting an engine in an aircraft is a delicate process and very expensive,’ explained Geles. ‘We also had to design a suitable gearbox. Modern electronics now make it possible to have exact timing for fuel injection and ignition,’ he added. ‘The resulting engine looks like a turbine; it is not really a turbine but has many of its advantages, including a very low level of vibration, it is lightweight, compact and it is water cooled, making it possible to change power output very quickly and without thermally stressing the engine.’
Geles noted that EUREKA was instrumental in securing funding for the KERO project. ‘While we managed to start the work with “pocket money”, EUREKA labelling enabled us to put together the EUR 10 million in private equity financing that we needed to see the project through to a fully certified product ready for manufacture,’ he remarked.
The Mistral Engines chairman sees full FAA certification within 18 months of the project’s end in February 2009.