United we fly

Fuel-efficient high-performance aircraft could be produced more quickly and at lower costs, thanks to UK research being funded by Bombardier Aerospace.

Researchers at Queens University Belfast, led by Prof Srinivasan Raghunathan, are developing techniques to allow designers to improve the aerodynamics of future aircraft without increasing costs.

A £2 million Integrated Aircraft Technology research centre, also funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, is being set up to investigate the development of new technologies and their impact on all areas of aircraft design and manufacture, including aerodynamics, propulsion and production costs.

The researchers aim to develop integrated technologies for the next generation of aircraft, including fuselages and propulsion components, at the lowest cost and highest performance possible. technologies to be investigated will include those currently being researched in the UK and US aerospace sector such as passive, active and synthetic jet control to reduce drag and enhance lift.

Designing aircraft involves a number of disciplines, such as aerodynamics and materials, each of which impact on each other, said Raghunathan. ‘Fuel is about aerodynamics, so to design an aircraft with low fuel consumption it has to be very smooth, with low friction. But smooth aircraft are very difficult and expensive to manufacture.’

So the researchers are developing numerical models and computer codes to allow manufacturers to link these disciplines at the design stage, with the aim of making a ‘trade-off’ between each area to produce fuel-efficient aircraft at lower costs.

‘When aircraft manufacturers are selling planes the airlines want them to cut the cost as much as possible, but they also want to keep a high level of safety and high performance,’ said Raghunathan.

‘They also want to reduce lead times on building new aircraft, otherwise by the time you deliver, the plane it is already outdated.’

An aircraft can be seen as one linked system, said the centre’s Dr Richard Curran. ‘If you look at the structure of an aircraft you might load it and get a certain deformation. That deformation would be entered into the model, so you know you will get a different aerodynamic performance.

‘In turn aerodynamic changes will mean you get different deformations.

‘In the past all these things have been developed in total isolation, but you will get a more optimal design if you can think about them at the same time,’ he said.

The technologies developed will undergo structural and wind tunnel testing at the university’s aerospace research facilities. The centre will include 12 academic staff and 10 researchers, and have industrial and international advisory boards to ensure R&D is relevant to the global aerospace industry.