Helicopter airbags

Analysis: Farnborough Internation Airshow 2010

E&T showcases the highlights of the Farnborough International Airshow 2010.

Dreamliner departs in style

Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner departs in style, flanked by two Spitfires, after making its international debut at the airshow, where it was on static display with a flight-test interior including seats and lavatories. Boeing says the plane will offer 'a new level of passenger comfort' with bigger windows and more personal space, as well as using 20 per cent less fuel than similar-sized aircraft.

Space landers boost helicopter safety

An airbag system based on space technology that is designed to increase survivability when helicopters are forced to come down on land or water was previewed at Farnborough ahead of expected availability in 2012. Anglo-Italian aerospace firm Aero Sekur has drawn on 40 years of experience in developing planetary landing and re-entry systems, as well as inflatable space structures, to create the combined shock-absorption and flotation concept. Expertise gained from developing flotation bags was combined with vented airbag technology transferred from the company's space division, while the shock-attenuation elements were originally developed as part of the ESA ExoMars programme.

VTOL craft seeks backers

By Dominic Lenton

With financial constraints at the front of everyone's minds this year Cranfield Aerospace, the commercial arm of Cranfield University, was at Farnborough looking for partners to develop an unmanned vertical take-off and landing craft it says eliminates much of the complexity of existing systems.

The all-electric vehicle, known as Valkyrie, would be able to provide 'perch and stare' reconnaissance support for ground troops, special forces operations and counter-terrorism. According to its creators, VTOL capability minimises the need for ancillary ground-based equipment, while in flight its autonomous control system and innovative airframe characteristics make it exceptionally stable.

A 1.4m wingspan version has completed successful flights to test the control system and on-board sensors, although the design can be scaled up or down according to need. The next steps will be to incorporate a range of payloads and address issues of vertical recovery and all-weather operation.

CAe managing director David Gardner wants to take the Valkyrie concept forward as a matter of urgency. 'The need is there and it needs to be met,' he said. 'For some years now we have continued to see so many UAV products that have had similar problems with launch and recovery, high dependence on flying skills, too much ground support equipment, and just too easy for the enemy to spot and destroy. Valkyrie represents a real breakthrough in providing an easy-to-use piece of kit at the front line of military engagement and counter-terrorism initiatives without the operational complexity and paraphernalia of the past.'

Government looks to security sector to boost economy

By Dominic Lenton

Emerging security and counter-terrorism solutions are joining the defence technologies traditionally on show at Farnborough at the top of the government's agenda, Security Minister Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones told industry representatives at the event's first 'security day' conference.

Neville-Jones, who was one of eleven ministers to visit this year's Airshow, told delegates: 'It's clear that we should not try to separate our approach to security from our approach to defence.' Advances in areas such as communications that have changed people's lives so dramatically in recent years have also made it easier for terrorist groups to recruit, train and raise funds, she warned. 'Dealing with terrorism, we're faced with a technology arms race. It becomes absolutely crucial to be ahead in the technology game.'

That means working closely with suppliers on initiatives like building 'intelligent borders' to monitor who is entering and leaving the country and target resources. 'We need to know who we need to know about, without interfering with everyone else,' the minister said.

In the current economic climate, though, it will be important to make the right choices, both to build a strong, flexible industry base and to keep costs down, she added.

The UK's 4 per cent share of the global security market 'does represent something of a collective failure' when compared with the 18 per cent share it enjoys in defence, the minister said, admitting that the government was also responsible for this apparent underachievement.

'I'd like to see a major uplift in this performance,' she said, suggesting that government and industry should talk to each other much earlier in the procurement process, at concept rather than specification stage.

Ahead of Farnborough, aerospace, defence and security trade organisation ADS published a roadmap outlining measures it says the government should take around the economy, national security, the needs of the armed forces and the environment. 'Innovators and Wealth Creators' calls for public investment to be concentrated on high-value, globally-competitive sectors with strong growth potential that can deliver high returns, especially through an increase in exports.

A clear strategy needs to be agreed between Government and industry that provides support and encouragement for small and medium-sized companies, ADS says. There should be a greater commitment to research, consolidation of skills initiatives, and a Strategic Defence Review that takes account of the wealth creation aspects of defence.

ADS chairman Ian Godden said: 'The UK's aerospace, defence, security and space sectors are global leaders and, with the right support from Government, can deliver a major boost to the nation's number one priority - our economic recovery. The industry needs the Government and they need us.'

One initiative announced during the show is a project run by Thales UK and trade organisation Intellect to identify and trial new technologies for aviation security.

Open to organisations of any size, the INSTINCT-Technology Demonstrator 2 (TD2) project offers the opportunity to demonstrate new solutions in a combination of live physical environments, including UK airports, and synthetic environments.

The organisers are looking for ideas that can improve aviation security at any stage in the air travel process, from the point of planning and booking a trip, through to boarding an aircraft.

Anyone interested in taking part has until 21 August to submit their idea. It is expected that between 20 and 30 of the best will be trialled prior to a showcase event in December. A final report on the exercise will be submitted to the Government at the end of January 2011 and the participants judged to have the best ideas will share a cash prize from a fund of £50,000 provided by Thales.

Further information

Register for an industry day to be held in Central London on 19 August:

e-mail instinct-td2@uk.thalesgroup.com or visit www.intellectuk.org/instinct-td2

'Black box' helmet alerts medics to trauma

BAE Systems unveiled a new version of a helmet sensor known as HEADS (Headborne Energy Analysis and Diagnostic System), which helps spot potential traumatic brain injuries by monitoring any impact that the wearer experiences during combat.

Designed to fit in the top of any standard military helmet, the palm-sized sensor acts like the black box recorder in an aircraft, continuously collecting information such as impact direction, magnitude, duration, blast pressures, angular and linear accelerations, as well as the exact times they happen. This information is securely stored until it can be downloaded and analysed by medical teams using a USB or wireless connection.

The second-generation on show at Farnborough is a 'smarter' sensor with RFID capability that can be set to be triggered by a blast. Once the soldier returns to base, a series of antennas placed where they can scan arriving helmets will alert medical personnel that the wearer has been involved in an explosion and should be checked for concussion and other injuries.

BAE has already received a $17m order from the US Army for the new modules, with deliveries expected to begin next April. Nearly 7000 helmets equipped with the first version have been supplied to the US Army and US Marine Corps since it was introduced in 2008.

Broadband by satellite

Avanti Communications, the budding satellite broadband provider, demonstrated a continuous broadband video feed in Farnborough's Space Zone. An Intelsat satellite in geostationary orbit and a wide-screen display on the EADS Astrium stand allowed the company to preview its commercial service, which will start once its first satellite, Hylas-1, reaches orbit in the second half of the year.

According to Simon Barrett, Avanti's head of marketing, the core of its business will be a rural broadband 'fill-in service', delivering broadband to the parts of its mainly European coverage area not served by terrestrial providers. Barrett confirmed that the business model is similar to that of satellite TV broadcasting, which delivers multiple TV channels to anywhere a small parabolic antennas can be installed. Speeds of up to 4Mbit/s download and 1Mbit/s upload will be available.

Novel fuels take off

By Lorna Sharpe

With growing interest in biofuels, a cluster of US-based companies came together to promote their capabilities under the banner 'United Alternative Aviation Fuels'.

Perhaps the best-known of these was Honeywell's UOP, which processes feedstocks such as camelina, jatropha and algae to produce a 'bio-synthetic paraffinic kerosene'. Branded Green Jet Fuel, this has been used in a number of high-profile civil and military test flights.

UOP's James Rekoske says the company has produced 200,000 US gallons of fuel so far this year, 'and we'll easily double that by the year-end', mainly for military use. The capability of the plant is much larger, he added, but the supply chain isn't fully developed yet to provide feedstock at an economic price.

In the long term, aviation users see alternative fuels as a way of reducing their exposure to the volatile global oil market, as well as cutting their carbon footprints.

While UOP works with a variety of feedstocks, Solazyme specialises in producing oil from microalgae using a fermentation method that it says will scale up much more readily than competing processes. The company has just delivered 1,500 gallons of algal-based jet fuel to the US Navy, and is producing biodiesel in commercial quantities.

Another US company, Solena, is a key partner with British Airways in a pioneering British venture to produce jet fuel from municipal solid waste that would otherwise go to landfill. The £225 million Greensky project will see a commercial-scale production plant built in the London area; two sites are under consideration from an original list of 60.

British Airways will buy the fuel for its aircraft using London airports.

The feedstock for the process will be pre-processed waste from which recyclable materials have been removed. Using proprietary plasma gasification technology, this will be converted into a biosyngas and then put through the well-established Fischer-Tropsch process to produce a wax that can be refined to produce liquid fuel.

Solena chief financial officer Brian Miloski said one by-product of the process is bionaptha, for which a market exists as a catalytic cracker. Another is a gas that will be used to generate electricity, producing a net 20MW for export to the grid.

'We're hoping to break ground by the end of 2011,' Miloski told E&T. 'That would see commissioning late in 2013 and commercial operation in 2014.

'The unique thing here is that we're using waste as a resource, when it's normally seen as a problem,' Miloski added.

Dutch engineering consultancy Arcadis is managing the project, which has the backing of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

New funding for 'shared airspace' programme

The second phase of a programme to overcome the challenges of operating UAVs in UK airspace has been launched with £30 million of funding from public bodies and defence and aerospace organisations.

ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation & Assessment) is a six-year programme involving public sector, regulatory and academic bodies alongside companies including BAE Systems, Thales, Rolls-Royce, EADS and QinetiQ.

The three-year second phase will see participants working with the Civil Aviation Authority on the twin themes of 'separation assurance and control' and 'autonomy and decision making'. Among the issues to be addressed are ground operations and human interaction, communications and air traffic control, collision avoidance, multiple air vehicle integration, and decision modelling.

ASTRAEA chairman Simon Jewell said: 'There is considerable potential for civilian unmanned systems to offer low-cost services that include incident monitoring and reporting, coastline environmental patrols and supporting police operations. However, we recognise that significant development is required before unmanned systems can be used alongside manned aircraft, and that current regulations will need to be redefined.'

Flying on Algae

On static display at Farnborough were two aircraft concepts from EADS Innovation Works demonstrating its eCO2avia programme.

One was a Diamond DA42 aircraft powered by what the company refers to as 'pure biofuel made from algae'. Certain algal species contain significant amounts of oil, which can be extracted, processed and refined as a replacement for jet fuel, among other things.

Following some modifications to its AE300 engines, the aircraft made test flights earlier this year. EADS says that because of the algal biofuel's higher energy content, the DA42's fuel consumption is '1.5 litres per hour lower when compared to conventional JET-A1 fuel - while maintaining equal performance'.

The other, more futuristic-looking concept was a helicopter with a diesel-electric hybrid engine, designed to 'make helicopters more environmentally friendly' by reducing fuel consumption and emissions 'by up to 50 percent'. According to EADS, take-offs and landings are possible on electric power alone, 'resulting in lower noise levels and improved flight safety'.

Comms module for UAVs

A lightweight communications module based on carbon composite materials that was unveiled at Farnborough by Astrium is designed to provide the very high data rates required to transmit live video from unmanned surveillance vehicles.

AirPatrol was developed by Astrium's Secure Satcom Systems group in response to growing demand from both military and civil users who are increasingly reliant on the secure transmission of video, multi-spectral and radar imagery, particularly from UAVs.

Astrium says that using carbon composite materials rather than aluminium in the antenna design improves performance by permitting a higher level of radio frequency path integration. Capacity in some situations can be at least three times that of a standard antenna, and data rates of 20Mbit/s are claimed at X-band using a 60cm dish. This means AirPatrol can, for example, stream live images from UAV reconnaissance missions directly to ground-based receivers.

With the capability to operate over Ku, Ka and X bands, AirPatrol can be configured to operate as a communications platform for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR), or as dual communications and control system providing beyond-line-of-sight control.

With a typical weight of around 16kg, an advanced stabilisation system is able to handle complex airborne manoeuvres, ensuring that the antenna always remains accurately pointed to maintain a secure communication link at all times.

Supporting space spin-offs

By Mark Williamson

The European Space Agency's technology transfer programme was a highlight in the Space Zone at this year's Farnborough International Airshow. Around 200 dehydrated participants braved the rising heat and humidity of the space industry pavilion to hear a clutch of technology transfer specialists address the theme of 'new funding and support for space entrepreneurs'. As Chris Bee, business development manager for the Science & Technology Facilities Council, explained, it's all about putting the right people in touch with one another, which he called 'technology scouting'.

But anyone expecting to witness the presentation of cheques for innovative rocket engines and next-generation crew modules would have been disappointed; it was more buzzwords than Buzz Lightyear. Michael Lawrence, head of special projects at the UK's Technology Strategy Board, said its role was to 'connect and catalyse', but avoided any mention of money. Assuring the audience that space was on the same list as other deserving technology areas, such as transport and the environment, he confirmed that the TSB was working closely with the newly-formed UK Space Agency, its 'delivery partner for telecommunications and navigation programmes'.

That all-important matter of funding was finally raised, not by any government official but by Bernd Geiger, managing general partner of the Triangle Venture Capital Group. He introduced the so-called 'Open Skies Technology Fund', a 100 million euro reserve for start-ups, but immediately made it clear that 'venture capitalists are not philanthropists', simply investors with money that they hope will make more money. Spattering his presentation with clichés such as 'life is not fair' and 'only the strongest survive', he seemed more concerned with threats than opportunities. His advice was, however, entirely pragmatic: 'You don't get what you desire', he warned, 'but what you negotiate'.

Despite this, Chris Bee's view of technology transfer from space was a positive one, as illustrated by ESA's online Technology Forum (www.technology-forum.com). It features 372 different space technologies, said Bee, and is 'getting about 10,000 hits a month, which shows that people are interested in the field'.

Callum Norrie, ESA's technology transfer programme officer, highlighted some success stories. For example, the technology for controlling crystal growth experiments on the International Space Station using ultrasound has been applied to in-flight aircraft monitoring, which allows faults or out-of-spec conditions to be flagged up before they become serious.

Another was the transfer of slush-hydrogen techniques from launch vehicles to 'future power concepts' where hydrogen storage is key. The advantages of slush-hydrogen (a mixture of liquid and solid hydrogen) include a 20 per cent reduction in tank volume, with a consequent mass saving, and a reduction in boil-off from the current 4 per cent per day to 'a maximum of 0.1 per cent'.

According to Bee, an instrumentation spin-off could help reduce the disruption of international airspace resulting from volcanic ash ingestion concerns by 'actually detecting what enters the engine'. In fact, the technology that forms the basis of the CO2 isotope ratio meter, tuneable laser absorption spectroscopy, also has applications in oil exploration, food origin determination and medical breath testing, according to the Technology Forum. The general public has a relatively poor knowledge of space applications, but it could be that space technology is finally 'in the zone'.

'Grizzly' nickname made official

By Lorna Sharpe

Putting its troubled past behind it, the European A400M military transport plane is flying at last and made an appearance at Farnborough before returning to its test programme in Seville. Engineers and test pilots there had nicknamed the aircraft Grizzly because of its supposed bear-like appearance, and now Airbus Military has formally adopted the name for its development fleet, though the various European Air Forces that will be the aircraft's first customers will be free to choose their own designations.

The next item on the test agenda, according to Airbus Military head of flight testing Fernando Alonso, was to roll the aircraft onto a runway covered with chalk balls and monitor how they get thrown up under the aircraft. The pattern of chalk marks on the fuselage, landing gear and propellers will give an indication of potential vulnerabilities to damage when landing on unpaved runways - an important capability when the plane goes into service.

Hot-climate testing is scheduled for the coming weeks, with cold-weather and high-altitude tests to follow later.

Alonso also showed journalists a short film of the first two aircraft flying in formation, a demanding test of flight controls that will also be used to evaluate the best position for in-flight refuelling.

Less than a year ago Airbus parent EADS was threatening to scrap the A400M in the face of slipping timetables and huge cost over-runs, but in March the company reached an agreement in principle with its customer nations - Germany, France, Spain, the UK, Turkey, Belgium and Luxembourg - to save the project.

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