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November 20, 1997
Kirsten Williams Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA (Phone: 805/258-3449) RELEASE: 97-274 MILESTONE ACHIEVED FOR ALL-ELECTRIC AIRPLANE TECHNOLOGY Engineers at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA, have completed tests on a device that paves the way for developing future all-electric airplanes which could be safer and more fuel efficient than today's aircraft. Called the Electro-Hydrostatic Actuator, the device eliminates or minimizes airborne dependence on pneumatic, hydraulic and mechanical systems. It and related electrical systems also could lead to a five- to nine-percent fuel savings on an all-electric passenger plane, a 30- to 50-percent reduction in ground equipment, and a reduction in the vulnerability of military aircraft in combat situations. The device, designed as part of a joint Air Force-Navy-NASA effort, was tested on the left aileron of NASA's F/A-18 Systems Research Aircraft without using the aircraft's central hydraulics. "Throughout the flights the Electro-Hydrostatic Actuator performed as well as the standard actuator," said Robert Navarro, Dryden's principal investigator. "We completed the required 25 hours of flight time and the device continues to perform flawlessly." Taking its signals from the aircraft's flight-control computers, the device uses its electronics to "fool" aircraft computers into thinking a standard actuator is on board. The device contains a small amount of hydraulic fluid, and it uses an electric motor to drive its pump, creating a force that moves the aileron. For many years, NASA, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy have sought to eliminate sophisticated but heavy hydraulic systems in aircraft in favor of electrical "power-by-wire" systems for operating
flight controls. Besides savings in costs and support, electrical systems promise diminished vulnerability in combat by eliminating hydraulic lines in the fuselage and wing box. The power-by-wire arrangement also will reduce complexity and improve reliability. The device is part of the Electrically Powered Actuation Design program. The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, WrightPatterson Air Force Base, OH, manages the overall program. Dryden provided ground testing for the actuator; installed and integrated it in the F/A-18; provided the necessary data acquisition systems and is responsible for flight safety. The device is the second of three actuators being tested. It will continue to fly aboard the F/A-18 until early next year or until it is replaced by the Electro-Mechanical Actuator. The Air Force is sponsoring this mechanical actuator, which is powered by electronics. -end-