AVIATION MAINTENANCE & TECHNOLOGY EXCHANGE
| Aviation Maintenance & Technology Exchange ||
April 27, 2015 - No. 30
NASA-Led Consortium Will Bring Science To Art Of Composites
Testing required to develop and certify aircraft structures has increased dramatically with the growth in use of carbon-fiber composites, and the cost and time required has become an issue as industry looks for further improvements to reduce fuel burn.
Now NASA has formed an industry-spanning consortium with the goal of cutting by 30% today's 10-year timeline for developing and certifying composite aircraft structures. The public-private partnership of NASA, the FAA, Boeing, GE Aviation, Lockheed Martin and a United Technologies Corp. team led by Pratt & Whitney plans to conduct joint research under the five-year Advanced Composites Program (ACP).
With growth in use of composites to around 50% of structure weight in the Boeing 787, the number of material property tests during development has increased to 100,000 from 5,000 in the 1980s and structural element tests to 10,000 from 500, says Eric Cregger, senior technical fellow in structural technologies at Boeing Research & Technology.
"The increase in cost and time to develop and certify is becoming an issue," Cregger told a manufacturing technology conference in Chicago in September. "The time to develop a next-generation aircraft is more than 210 months and going up."
"The lack of accepted analysis and test protocols that can be used to provide consistent understanding of the damage tolerance, production process variability and long-term durability of composites" is a significant problem, says NASA. "To assure product safety, developers must rely on time-consuming and costly testing procedures resulting in high development cost and long certification times."
ACP will focus on three technology challenges to developing and certifying composite structures: predicting damage, rapid inspection, and manufacturing processes and simulation. The program was funded in NASA's fiscal 2013 budget but has taken time to begin because of the complexity in agreeing how the companies will collaborate and share data from their proprietary experiences, to develop industry standards to characterize the as-manufactured behavior of composite structures.
The key final step was to appoint an integrator to manage the program and distribute NASA funding to the partners, which will share in the cost of research projects. The National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) in Hampton, Virginia, close to consortium-member NASA Langley Research Center, has been selected. "NIA is developing sub-agreements with the individual companies. They are just about there," says NASA Langley's Stan Smeltzer, ACP deputy program manager.
A draft set of up to 20 research activities to be conducted in Phase 1 of ACP has been taking shape over the past six months, and the first projects should begin by mid-year. The goal is to have multiple partners involved in each research project, where possible. "The more partners are working together, the more value there is, so we favor projects with multiple partners," Smeltzer says.
Because of the delay in establishing the public-partnership agreements, Phase 1 will now end in fiscal 2016. There then will be a downselect for those projects that continue into Phase 2, which is planned to end in fiscal 2018.
The predictive capabilities technical challenge is intended to develop composite damage-prediction methods sufficiently reliable to enable a reduction in the element and subcomponent testing necessary for development and certification. ACP also is expected to create rapid design tools to speed preliminary design and reduce redesign.
The rapid inspection challenge is intended to take the majority of composite defect types seen in aircraft manufacturing and develop methods to find, quantify and pass defect data back for analysis within the digital design environment. ACP also will identify automated inspection and analysis methods and develop a baseline of standard practice for ranking candidate techniques.
The manufacturing process and simulation challenge is aimed at developing predictive tools to speed design, analysis and fabrication; predict defects induced by automated fiber placement; and improve the ability to process fiber-placed structures. ACP also has the goal of enhancing the ability to adhesively bond composites for more-efficient structures, says Smeltzer.
ACP is unusual for NASA, which does not conduct much research on manufacturing technology. Smeltzer says its role within the consortium will be to understand the physics of composites and then bring that understanding to bear on existing manufacturing processes to drive out defects such as delaminations and voids that today create the need for such extensive testing.
Space Congress returns to Cape Canaveral
Started in the Apollo era, the Space Congress once drew more than 1,000 aerospace industry professionals from around the country and even internationally to Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral for panel discussions and exchanges of technical papers.
Buses shuttled guests to multiple hotels and the Congress leadership team could be identified by their colorful blazers.
But over the past decade, for reasons no one is entirely sure about, the event faded and stopped being held regularly. The National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, held for the 31st time earlier this month, rose to prominence as the industry's main annual gathering.
The Space Congress returns to the Space Coast this week, as local organizers try to revive the once-proud event and build momentum in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing four years from now.
"Our goal is to bring something to the community of interest to the people, and make it not only for space but for aviation, technology, manufacturing, logistics, to broaden the scope of it a little bit, and that's what we've tried to do this year," said Dwight Easterly, a retired engineer and consultant serving as general chairman for the 43rd Space Congress.
The 43rd Space Congress runs Tuesday through Thursday at the Radisson Resort at the Port in Cape Canaveral.
It is hosted by the Canaveral Council of Technical Societies, in partnership with Career Source Brevard and the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast.
The opening panel Tuesday will discuss "NASA and Air Force Innovation at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport," followed by one on emerging roles for states and local governments in space programs.
U.S. Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge, who sits on the House's space subcommittee, will deliver a video message at lunch that day, with a keynote speech by former NASA astronaut Winston Scott of the Florida Institute of Technology.
A panel on Thursday will offer the latest on the return of human spaceflight to the area, featuring former astronauts Chris Ferguson and Garrett Reisman of Boeing and SpaceX, respectively, which have contracts to fly NASA astronauts by 2017.
Eddie Ellegood, a local space policy analyst who organized some of the panels, said the Congress sought to bring industry members together and continue to dispel misperceptions that local space activity stopped with the shuttle program.
"Without Space Congress, without some local annual or even biannual conference of that sort, there's a real void locally that needs to be filled," he said. "It brings visibility to the area, and it allows the local community to become engaged and aware of what's going on at the Cape."
The 43rd Space Congress is the first since a one-day program in 2012 held in Cocoa, which followed years without one.
That decline somewhat mirrors the area's space program, which has faced uncertainty since plans to retire the shuttle were first announced in 2004, and endured thousands of contractor layoffs with that program's retirement in 2011.
Consolidation among space contractors over the years also hurt the Space Congress. That reduced the number of companies working here, and in turn the number of senior executives based here who would commit their prestige, time and money to the event.
"It was a big event," remembered Lee Solid, a Merritt Island resident and retired Rockwell executive who chaired the 30th Space Congress in 1993.
Solid still has a mug from that year with the event's motto: "Yesterday's vision is tomorrow's reality." Congress leaders wore maroon blazers and color-coordinated ties that year.
But by 2005, Solid was off to the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs as part of an economic development team trying to persuade companies to build NASA's next crew exploration capsule here.
"That's where it all started," he said of the talks that ultimately brought assembly of NASA's Orion capsule to Kennedy Space Center.
He plans to attend the 43rd Space Congress, and thinks it will be a test of the Congress' ability to survive.
"It's a most appropriate thing to have here," he said. "That's what we're known for. We're the Space Coast, right?"
Instead of colorful blazers, this Congress leadership this year opted for less expensive - and cooler - polo shirts that Easterly said have been described as "grasshopper green."
He said the new Space Congress is a homegrown event that doesn't aim to replicate the Space Symposium in Colorado and will offer a much more affordable price. Registration options range from $25 to $250.
"We think there's a niche for this," said Easterly. "Two or three days a year I don't think is unreasonable to try to bring a little more knowledge to the public."
Contact Dean at 321-242-3668 or firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow on Twitter at @flatoday_jdean and on Facebook at facebook.com/jamesdeanspace.
If you go
The 43rd Space Congress runs Tuesday to Thursday at the Radisson Resort at the Port, 8701 Astronaut Blvd. in Cape Canaveral. Visit spacecongress.org for more information.
Flight MH370: Aviation Expert Begins Crowdfunding Effort To Launch Search Near The Maldives
An aviation technology expert is working to raise funds for an operation that can ascertain if unidentified debris in the waters between Malaysia and India belong to the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. Andre Milne, who has been voluntarily investigating the case of the missing plane, is trying to raise nearly $2 million to prove his theory.
Milne, who aims to follow up on a theory that the missing plane may have ended up near the Maldives, hopes to crowdfund the project by raising about $10 from every donor who supports the project, the U.K.'s Mirror reported. Flight MH370, which went missing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board has become the subject of an unprecedented international search effort that is currently focused in the southern Indian Ocean, hundreds of miles southwest of Milne's proposed search zone.
"This area is not being searched. I need your help in order to verify one way or another whether this is in fact MH370," Milne said, in a video posted on a website, adding: "If you want to see whether or not this aircraft is in this site please participate in the crowd-sourcing venture."
The appeal from Milne comes as government officials from Australia, China and Malaysia said last week that they would double the search area for the plane if it was not found by May in the priority zone, which is currently located about 1,100 miles off the coast of Western Australia. Efforts to locate the plane have continued for over a year and cost millions of dollars, making it the most expensive search operation in aviation history.
Milne believes that Flight MH7370 moved north after going off radar based on claims from locals who say they spotted a plane flying south past the Maldives before circling back over the lower Bay of Bengal, Express News reported. Residents of the island of Kudahuvadhoo, in Dhaalu Atoll in the Maldives have claimed that they heard a loud noise while others described seeing a "low-flying jumbo jet" around the same time as the disappearance of Flight MH370.
However, a statement from the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC), which is monitoring the ongoing international search efforts, earlier this week refuted claims about the plane being near the Maldives. "Theories suggesting the aircraft is located to the north or significantly to the west of Sumatra are not supported by known facts or careful analysis. It is for this reason the aircraft cannot be in Kazakhstan, Diego Garcia or the Maldives," JACC said, in the statement.
"We keep on checking because until we find the aircraft everyone can say 'well you must be looking in the wrong place because you haven't found it'" Martin Dolan, chairman of the Australian Transport and Safety Bureau, which is leading the search operation, reportedly told News Corp Australia, adding that officials would continue to sift through the plane's last known communications to ensure nothing was overlooked.
Carplane, A Roadable Aircraft Designed For Drivability
In the land of the autobahn, drivability is a passion-even if the car is designed to fly. And the need for good road performance has driven the design of Germany's Carplane flying car, the near-complete prototype of which was unveiled at the Aero Friedrichshafen general-aviation show on April 15-18.
Braunschweig-based Carplane is developing the prototype with funding from the EU and the German state of Lower Saxony. The prototype is expected to be complete by the time funding support ends in July, after which Carplane plans to fly the vehicle and continue working toward certification on private investment, says program manager John Brown.
The Carplane has an unusual twin-hull configuration driven by the need for good road handling. Stowing the removable wings between the hulls prevents them from producing lift at higher road speeds, or the forces that could be produced by sidewinds if the wings were folded along the sides of the fuselage, he says.
Dual hulls also enable use of full-size car wheels to improve road-holding. While other flying-car designs use smaller aircraft-size wheels to reduce drag in flight, Brown says the twin hulls allow the vehicle to accommodate 13-in. road wheels (from the Smart car) while minimizing parasitic drag in flight.
The Carplane is powered by a 151-hp piston engine burning unleaded gasoline. This drives a gearbox with seven positions: four forward and one reverse driving the road wheels in car mode; one that drives the pusher propeller in flight; and one that drives both wheels and prop for a shorter takeoff.
Driving both wheels and prop increases acceleration. "We can get off the ground in 80 meters [260 ft.], at 45-50 kt," says Brown. "And we can land and stop within 80 meters."
Licensed by LSA Engines from Weber Motor and originally designed as a snowmobile powerplant, the 850-cc two-cylinder, four-stroke engine is turbocharged for use in flight and is already certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), he says, and meets the Euro 6 emissions standard in Europe.
In the prototype, the sailplane-style wings are removed, stowed and reattached manually, but Carplane has designed a mechanism that enables the wings to stow and unstow, and empennage to extend and retract, automatically. This has been demonstrated with a quarter-scale model, and the prototype's structure is designed to accommodate the mechanism.
Carplane plans to certify its flying car as a very light aircraft (VLA) under EASA airworthiness regulations. This limits maximum gross weight to 750 kg (1,650 lb.). With the automatic deployment mechanism, the vehicle weighs 795 kg. "We either go manual or apply for an exemption," says Brown, adding that EASA has indicated it would consider approving a heavier weight.
The company is pursuing EASA approval, rather than self-certification under industry standards for light sport aircraft (LSA), because the VLA category is recognized worldwide, he says. VLA certification does require a private pilot's license, whereas an LSA can be flown with a sport pilot's certificate requiring as little as 20 hr. flight time.
The Carplane is too heavy for the LSA category, but if the FAA approves flying-car developer Terrafugia's request for an exemption to raise the gross-weight limit to 1,800 lb. for its Transition, then the vehicle could be ready more quickly. As a VLA, "we will not be on the market before 2018," Brown says. "But if Terrafugia gets a weight exemption, that sets a precedent. We could self-certify as an LSA and go to market sooner."
For now, Carplane has focused efforts on getting the prototype flying later this year. "The measure of progress for our funding is based on whether it can fly, not drive. As we are getting close to the end of that funding, we have stopped engineering involved with ground certification to concentrate on flying," says Brown.
For road certification, the vehicle will have to pass a 5-mph/8-kph crash test. The next level of testing is a 27-mph/40-kph crash "in which 98% of the vehicles are destroyed," says Brown. But the higher level of safety testing is not required until vehicle sales exceed 1,000 per year in Europe or 1,500 per year in the U.S., he says, so Carplane will start with the 5-mph safety test.
Lawmakers scoff at postal drones
Top lawmakers are laughing off the possibility that the U.S. Postal Service might rely on drones in the coming years.
The Postal Service is looking to turn over what is widely viewed as an outdated fleet of delivery vehicles, seeking roughly 180,000 new vehicles to replace the familiar white, boxy trucks that have been in use for as long as a quarter-century.
The chance for a contract that could exceed $5 billion has drawn the interest of a string of corporate heavyweights, including Ford, Fiat Chrysler and Nissan. But it's also attracted the bid of the Workhorse Group, an Ohio company that wants to pair electric vehicles with package-delivering drones.
Members of Congress who concentrate on postal issues generally agree that the Postal Service could stand to bring its vehicle fleet into the 21st century. But they also said they hadn't heard of the drone proposal. Once informed, they didn't seem to believe there's much potential in a marriage bringing together drones and USPS, which has been criticized for being slow to adapt to the new challenges and opportunities brought by technology.
"Would that be for air mail?" Sen. Tom Carper (Del.), the top Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees USPS, said with a laugh. "Quote me on that, O.K.? Say when asked, Carper said: 'Would that be for air mail?' Obviously not for snail mail."
Carper added that he's been meeting with other senators about postal issues, with an upcoming roundtable to focus on the agency's future challenges. Still, he insisted: "I wouldn't put my money on the Postal Service using drones any time soon."
Rep. Stephen Lynch (Mass.), a senior Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, had a similar take, even as he too knocked the Postal Service for being behind the times technologically.
"There are things I need to worry about. And there are things that are very unlikely to happen," Lynch said, making it clear that drones delivering packages for the Postal Service fell in the second category.
Still, there's plenty of reason to believe that drones could soon play a more prominent role in commercial delivery - not least because the online shopping giant Amazon has been pushing the idea. Amazon received permission just this month from the Federal Aviation Administration to test outdoor delivery drones.
The idea of delivery drones raises new safety questions, especially after a drone landed on the White House lawn this year. But Steve Burns, Workhorse's chief executive, said that he's pitching USPS on the chance to be forward thinking in a variety of ways, by employing drones and combination electric/hybrid vehicles.
The key, Burns said, is for the Postal Service to imagine how deliveries might take place in 2040, when the next fleet of vehicles might get retired, and not how they happen in 2015.
"Think how the whole world will be watching if they see the United State Postal Service is going electric and maybe even using drones," Burns said.
The Postal Service's efforts to make over its vehicle fleet is still in its early stages, with a phased roll-out of new vehicles not expected until at least 2018. Fifteen companies are now in the process of giving USPS more detailed proposals, after the agency first asked for bids in January. Several of those 15 companies will next be asked to develop a prototype for the Postal Service to examine.
Other companies are also proposing electric vehicles, and AM General, the maker of Humvees, is also trying to get the USPS contract.
Sarah Ninivaggi, a USPS spokeswoman, said that the agency was seeking vehicles with better fuel economy, to help both the Postal Service's bottom line and the environment.
USPS, which has lost billions of dollars in recent years, also wants vehicles that are better suited for delivering packages, at a time when online shopping is increasingly on the rise. The agency's current fleet is now designed for the sort of mail - letters and bills, for instance - that have declined in volume in recent years.
Ninivaggi said that safety would be just one of a slew of considerations USPS would take into account when awarding the contract. "All options will be chosen with the safety of customers and employees top of mind," she told The Hill in an email.
Burns said that drones and electric trucks would be delivery partners under Workhorse's bid. Drones, he said, could deliver packages to the front of a house, and then double back as the truck continued its route along the road.
"The whole premise is that the driver can keep moving," Burns said.
The drones would be able to charge themselves throughout the route on the larger battery being used to run the delivery truck. The set-up would also generally keep the drone fairly close to the delivery truck, at a time when the FAA has proposed regulations that would require an operator to keep a commercial drone within their sights.
Burns added that the sheer size of the USPS contract - perhaps the biggest ever for vehicles - would make life difficult for even automotive giants like Ford. And while he acknowledged that some might laugh at the idea of USPS using drones, he also said that the novelty factor and the publicity that comes with it could help his company's bid.
"I think you'd see people in the early days gather on the stoop to see the drones work," Burns said. "It'll be fascinating."
At least one top lawmaker thinks Workhorse could be on to something.
House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) thought the Postal Service would be foolish not to consider drones, though he argued that rural routes might be a better fit than urban or suburban ones.
"I think it's worth looking at. The world's changing," Chaffetz said. "Drones are here to stay. The technology's easy and pervasive. So can it be used for legitimate commercial purposes? Yeah, I think so."
Still, Chaffetz also couldn't help but toss out a joke about the bid to bring drones to USPS.
"Does it include a gyrocopter?" he said, referencing the postal worker who flew to the Capitol grounds this month.
Health App Might One Day Tell Flight Crew When You're Blue or Green
The old flight attendant call-button could be on its way out if a clever health app by Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands takes off.
Instead, flight attendants will get a clear view of what passengers are distressed or ill just by looking at an app on their airline-issued tablets which monitors passenger well-being.
This may all sound too sci-fi to fly (and for now it is), but airlines are considering a number of ways to gauge well being and passenger satisfaction-without relying solely on passenger feedback.
Students Flaminia del Conte, Mirthe Monninkhof and Quirine van Walt Meijer designed the FlightBeat platform to use heart-rate sensors built into the aircraft seat to monitor passengers' physical and emotional state.
It's all just a concept for now but consider the possibilities.
The data are then transmitted wirelessly to the app loaded on the crew's devices, and presented on a color-coded seat map which helps flight attendants know immediately which passenger on which seat needs special attention.
There are many opportunities to improve the passenger experience with this health-check app. Besides supposedly knowing when a passenger is seriously ill and an emergency diversion might be necessary, airlines could gather general well-being data to determine the effectiveness of in-flight entertainment in relaxing passengers, identify particular areas of the cabin which cause the most stress or discomfort, gauge the phase of flight when passengers are most uncomfortable, and compare the data on various routes.
To ensure privacy, the students proposal specifies that passengers could opt-out of being measured with a control setting on their seat. Those who do opt to be measured, the students propose, could even send their well-being data home via the aircraft's Wi-Fi connection.
The FlightBeat platform has support from KLM and Zodiac Aerospace/TU Delft University
The main reason experts who consult the industry give in support of this kind of sensor technology-and other forms of passive passenger satisfaction measurements-is that, as consumers, we're not really as self-aware as we think we are.
The suggestion is that some passengers might not adequately verbalize their feelings. While some passengers are comfortable speaking up when they're uncomfortable or unhappy, it's the passengers who don't complain that worry airlines most. The feedback passengers don't share could guide their future booking decisions as much as whatever they write on a survey or Tweet to their followers-perhaps even more.
For now, the FlightBeat is only a concept, but the research project was supported by Zodiac Aerospace and KLM airlines, which gives us hope that aviation has begun taking smart tech seriously.
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Curt Lewis, PhD, CSP, FRAeS
CURT LEWIS & ASSOCIATES, LLC
(Targeting Safety & Risk Management)
Curt Lewis & Associates, LLC is an international, multi-discipline technical and scientific consulting firm specializing in aviation and industrial safety. Our specialties are aviation litigation support, aviation/airport safety programs, accident investigation, safety & quality assessments/audits, system safety (PRA), human factors, Safety Management Systems (SMS) assessment/implementation & training, safety/quality training & risk management, aviation manual development, IS-BAO Auditing, airfield/heliport lighting products and Technical Support.