Europe Launches New Aviation Research Program
With the huge new A380 now entering service, aircraft wake vortex turbulence is becoming an important safety issue, particularly in the airspace around major airports. One of the projects funded in the new EU aviation research initiative will develop a LIDAR-based wake vortex detection system. Another will coordinate European research and policy regarding wake turbulence.
Credit: Rolls-Royce

European Union administrators will provide official funding for a group of 36 research projects that they believe will help make air transport greener, safer, more secure and more cost-efficient.

The four large and 32 smaller projects to be funded will research key areas such as using flight physics and alternative fuels to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for aircraft, and developing new systems to improve aircraft safety in bad weather.

Researchers will also work on developing aircraft materials that can repair themselves, and creating blast-proof aircraft cabin structures. Other projects will seek ways of reducing production and development costs for airframes, aircraft structures, engines and components.

The European Commission (the European Union's administrative body) received 196 proposals after issuing a call earlier this year for research proposals in aeronautics and air transport. It short-listed 89 of them, from which independent evaluators then selected the 36 most promising proposals to receive funding.

"Several of the selected projects will work towards the EU's goals of halving carbon emissions per passenger kilometer by 2020," said Janez Potočnik, the European Union's (EU) Research Commissioner.

All of the projects are expected to start in January 2008.

The EU is funding them under its Seventh Framework Program for Research (FP7), which will make available a total of euros2.1 billion ($2.98 billion) for aeronautics research in the period from 2007 to 2013. The first batch of 36 projects now selected will receive euros217 million ($308 million).

Four large projects

Almost half of the $308 million will go to four large projects. Each will be led by a major air transport industry manufacturer and each is intended to pursue the dual goals of reinforcing Europe's industrial leadership and responding to aviation environmental and safety concerns.

The four large projects are:

  • DREAM, a project more formally known as Validation of Radical Engine Architecture Systems. Led by Rolls-Royce and involving 47 partners from 13 countries, DREAM will develop new engine concepts based on open, contra-rotating rotors. It is targeting a 7 percent reduction in CO2 emissions and a 3-decibel reduction in noise. The project will also develop specifications for alternate fuels, and will assess and test potential future fuels. The EU will provide euros25 million ($35.6 million) in funding for DREAM.
  • MAAXIMUS, an acronym for "More Affordable Aircraft Structure through Extended, Integrated and Mature Numerical Sizing." This project has 58 partners from 18 countries and is led by Airbus. It aims to improve the composition and design of aircraft fuselages, in order to cut assembly time in half and to reduce structural weight by 10 percent, which in turn would reduce CO2 emissions. MAAXIMUS will receive euros40 million ($57 million) of EU funding.
  • HIRF SE, which stands for High Intensity Radiated Field Synthetic Environment. Involving 44 partners from 11 countries under the leadership of Alenia, this project will create simulators to test the reaction of new aircraft to electromagnetic interference. This area of research is particularly important because of the growing use of composite materials in aircraft. The EU will provide euros18 million ($25.7 million) for HIRF SE.
  • SCARLETT, a project led by Thales to develop advanced modular avionics platforms for a range of aircraft types. SCARLETT will receive euros23 million ($32.8 million) of EU research funding.

Other projects will conduct research into areas such as extreme icing environments; biofuels for aviation use; future avionics architecture for small-aircraft; smart high-lift devices for next-generation wings; blast-worthy textile-based luggage containers; flutter-free turbomachinery blades; and long-term advanced propulsion concepts.

High-tech safety systems

One project called HISVESTA and headed by Norwegian institute SINTEF aims to develop high-stability altimeters to produce very accurate measurements of the vertical-distance separations between aircraft.

Such instruments could be particularly useful for aircraft in densely trafficked high-altitude airspace -- such as busy transatlantic airways, which aren?t radar-controlled -- where reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) rules are in effect. RVSM procedures allow the vertical separation between aircraft at cruise altitudes to be 1,000 feet, instead of the formerly standard 2,000 feet. Because the vertical separation in RVSM airspace has been cut in half, aircraft using it must have extremely accurate navigation equipment and flight instruments installed.

Two other projects will be based on the use of laser technologies. One will demonstrate a laser-based anemometer (an instrument that measures wind speed), while the other will demonstrate a wake vortex detection system based on LIDAR (light detection and ranging) that will work in atmospheric haze.

Aircraft wake-vortex turbulence is becoming an increasingly important area of research for the air transport industry with the advent of the huge Airbus A380 and the rapidly increasing number of large widebody aircraft at major airports. Among the 32 smaller projects to be funded by the EU are six "coordination actions," aimed at stimulating the participation of small- and medium-sized companies and new EU member states in air transport research. One of the six coordination actions will concentrate on the issue of aircraft wake turbulence, under the leadership of Airbus Deutschland.