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‘DRESS’ project presented at Paris Air Show

The EU-funded DRESS project is developing a new electric steering system to replace hydraulics in today’s airliners. At this year’s Paris Air Show, DRESS partners discussed progress being made towards the ‘more electric aircraft’ of the future.

DRESS project presentation © Peter Gutierrez
DRESS project presentation
© Peter Gutierrez

“With this project, we are making a contribution to the development of a more electric aircraft,” says DRESS project coordinator Stéphane Dellac of Messier-Bugatti. “This means better environmental performance and lower operational costs.”

Facing challenges

In the highly competitive air transport sector, where low-cost carriers are driving down profit margins, new methods for reducing aircraft operating costs are in great demand. In an effort to meet this demand, European aircraft manufacturers are placing an increasing emphasis on the use of innovative technologies that can influence maintenance costs and fuel usage. At the same time, worldwide concerns about the negative effects of transport on the environment are pushing the aircraft industry to find news ways to improve efficiency.

The development of the ‘more electric aircraft’ is seen as a key goal in this process. Many electrical systems are inherently more efficient than their conventional hydraulic counterparts. Losses in electrical cabling are lower than those in hydraulic or pneumatic piping. Also, electrical systems can be designed to provide the right function at the right time, and only at the right time. Today, central hydraulic lines are kept energised during the entire flight, while electrical systems can be switched on and off as needed, thus conserving power.

A new approach to aircraft steering

Stéphane Dellac © Peter Gutierrez
Stéphane Dellac
© Peter Gutierrez

The DRESS presentation at the Paris Air Show on 16 June 2009 showcased work being done to develop a new all-electric front landing gear steering system, which could replace current hydraulic steering systems. DRESS (Distributed and redundant electro-mechanical nose wheel steering system) brings together 13 partners from the European aeronautics industry, including one aircraft manufacturer, a landing gear manufacturer, two systems and equipment manufacturers, a research institute, five universities and three small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

DRESS aims to develop a steering system that significantly increases levels of reliability and availability,” explains Dellac. “The fact is hydraulic systems can fail. In case of front wheel steering failure, a pilot can use other methods to turn an aircraft on the ground, but these methods require a certain minimum visibility level. An electric steering system gets around this problem, eliminating potential delays when hydraulic systems fail and weather conditions are poor.” DRESS will provide aircraft with true, all-weather, zero visibility, operational capabilities, he says, and the new system will also be compatible with an automated ground guidance system, offering significant aircraft operational improvements and enabling more efficient air transport.”

Dellac, along with other representatives of the DRESS consortium, laid out some preliminary results, including the development of a new architecture and a series of new electric and mechanical systems, control units and testing procedures.

Bourget highlights

The Paris Air Show ( Salon International de l'Aéronautique et de l'Espace, Paris-Le Bourget) is an international aerospace trade fair. It is held at Le Bourget Airport near Paris, every odd year, alternating with the Farnborough International Exhibition and Flying Display and the Berlin Air Show ( Internationale Luft- und Raumfahrtausstellung Berlin).

Airbus A380 © Peter Gutierrez
Impressive Airbus A380
© Peter Gutierrez

This year’s 100 th-anniversary instalment was overshadowed by the ongoing economic crisis and the recent loss of Air France flight 447 over the Atlantic. Nevertheless, reported deals included a Qatar Airways order for 24 Airbus A320 jets with a list price of €1.32 billion. Spanish airline Air Nostrum confirmed an order for 35 Bombardier CRJ-1000 jets, listed at €1.26 billion, and aerospace giant Rolls Royce said it had clinched a €1.08 billion order to supply and maintain engines for 20 Airbus A330 aircraft in Bahrain-based Gulf Air's fleet. Meanwhile, Hungarian airline Malev said it had signed a letter of intent to buy 30 Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet 100s, in a deal worth up to €720 million.

Aerial demonstration

Of course, no visit to the Paris Air Show would be complete without a glance at the flight displays. Among the star attractions was Airbus's massive A380, the world's first twin-deck, four-aisle airliner, reputed to be more fuel-efficient than a typical family car. Also gracing the skies was the new mid-sized and rather lively Sukhoi 100, mentioned above. Stunning displays of agility and power were provided by several military fighters, including the Eurofighter, the French Rafale and the latest version of the legendary American F-18.


Hans Von Den Driesch © Peter Gutierrez
Hans Von Den Driesch
© Peter Gutierrez

The DRESS steering system does represent a significant improvement in terms of performance, partners confirmed. It is heavier than current hydraulic systems, a potential negative, but they also see possible weight reductions in future versions. Other issues, such as maintenance and operational costs, are still under analysis. The DRESS project runs until the end of 2009.

No let-up for EU aeronautics research

Back at the DRESS event, Hans Von Den Driesch, the European Commission officer who oversees the project, said, “The Paris Air Show has provided us with a great opportunity to present the work of an important European research initiative, in the form of the DRESS project. The more electric aircraft and the all electric aircraft have been important concepts and we should continue to move in this direction.”

But the Commission s also supporting work in a number of other key aeronautics-related research areas, he said. A new call for proposals under the important ‘Clean Sky’ initiative has just been launched, and further calls under the Seventh Research Framework Programme are expected in the coming weeks and months.