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Innovation in aerospace

Summary of an event held on Wednesday 4 June 2014

at the Royal Academy of Engineering in association with the Royal Aeronautical Society
Innovation in aerospace
Summary of an event held on Wednesday 4 June 2014
at the Royal Academy of Engineering
in association with the Royal Aeronautical Society


1. Introduction 2

2. The global business 3

3. The UK opportunity 5

4. Innovation in aircraft 7

5. Innovation in flight operations 11

6. Innovation in components and materials 16

7. Further information and reading 20

8. Acknowledgements 21

© Royal Academy of Engineering

September 2014

Royal Academy of Engineering

Prince Philip House, 3 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5DG
Tel: 020 7766 0600
Fax: 020 7930 1549

Registered Charity Number: 293074 Photo © Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd

c2 Royal Academy of Engineering Innovation in aerospace 1

The UK’s aerospace sector contributes

billion a year to the economy

2. The global business

1. Introduction The UK aerospace sector is a global In addition, aerospace is pioneering

leader, number one in Europe and changes in business process, including
the servitisation trend, where
second globally only to the US. The
customers buy the availability of the
UK’s aerospace sector contributes service provided by an engineered
£24 billion a year to the economy product, rather than the product
with high growth potential in the itself. Airlines, for example, are
Over the past three years, Sir John Parker GBE FREng,
near future. Aerospace leads in increasingly devolving responsibility
President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, has
the development and application for aero-engines to manufacturers,
chaired a series of events to highlight the opportunities rather than owning the power
of innovation in both product and
and challenges of innovation in engineering sectors that units themselves. Aerospace is
process. With the overriding duty
have potential for growth and global reach. at the forefront of product data
of safety, aerospace as a sector management, which automates the
On 4 June 2014, a half-day event on Innovation in aerospace has a mature and well-defined statutory requirement for traceability
brought together leading engineers, businesspeople and innovation methodology that of materials and components.
academics to discuss issues and trends in the global and UK makes it a challenging and exciting
aerospace industry. field to work in. There is innovation too in
manufacturing processes. Aerospace
The event heard presentations from industrialists, academic Aerospace is widely seen as the is an important testbed for broader
researchers, innovators, and aircraft builders and operators. instigator of technology change developments in automation,
There was an emphasis on the application of technologies and in many fundamental engineering assembly and inspection. Aircraft,
opportunities for UK-based companies to maintain a leading disciplines, including electronics, seen as highly complex examples
role. This report is not a verbatim record of the conference; sensing and communications, the of systems and assemblies, present
rather, it seeks to highlight some of the issues raised and to use of new metals, composites and manufacturing challenges that
contribute to further discussion. plastics, and the development of new, have implications for many other
more efficient and sustainable power engineering sectors.
and energy systems.

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As an engine for economic growth, commercial aerospace companies are The UK has 3,000 companies directly involved in the

aerospace is prized as an industrial investing heavily in new aircraft and
sector worldwide. Air traffic, which more sustainable technologies. There industry, accounting for jobs
barely slackened during the recent is a lot of business to be won for the
downturn, is now forecast to rise at UK but also a lot of competition to win
a rate of 4.7% a year between now it. Aerospace is seen as a core sector in
and 2030, meaning a doubling in the the industrial development strategies
next 15 years. Airlines and other of many countries.

Air traffic is now forecast to rise at a rate of 4.7% a

year between now and 2030, meaning a doubling in
the next 15 years
3. The UK opportunity

The UK has a lot to win with To support the work of the AGP, the
the forecast growth in global Academy and Royal Aeronautical
Society have been proactive
aerospace. The UK has 3,000
in initiatives to enhance the
companies directly involved in the
competitiveness of the sector through
industry, accounting for 100,000 innovation and skills development.
jobs directly and a further 130,000 Together they administer a scheme
indirectly. to award Aerospace MSc bursaries
to deliver more masters-qualified
The importance of aerospace to engineering professionals for the UK
Photo © NATS
the UK has been recognised by a aerospace industry.
government and industry initiative,
the Aerospace Growth Partnership The need for special measures within
(AGP). The work of the AGP was the aerospace sector, Everitt said,
outlined at the event by Paul was identified from the sheer scale of
Everitt, chief executive of ADS, the the opportunities: “It’s a £4.5 trillion
aerospace, defence and security market in the next 20 years, with
industry association. The partnership, a forecast for 29,000 large aircraft,
Everitt said, was part of a new maybe 40,000 helicopters and many
political consensus in the UK that thousand more business jets”. The
saw designing and manufacturing as UK currently has capabilities in all of
“a good thing” and that also believed these product areas, and perhaps 16
there was a legitimate role for to 17% of the global market. “With
government in helping UK industry the scale of the opportunity, to miss it
to win business around the world would be a crime.”
through a modern industrial strategy.

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In order for the UK aerospace industry industry in the Aerospace Technology
to capture a significant share of this Institute over the next six years.
growth, the UK must position itself for This investment into technology and
the next phase, making investments manufacturing is intended to build
both to increase capacity of the on existing strengths in areas such
of those who took the survey agreed that they
industry to meet growing demand as wings, aeroengines and advanced wanted flying to be more environmentally friendly
and capability to match customer systems. A key message here, Everitt
requirements. highlights, is that the investment
horizon extends beyond the next two
Those requirements are not simple. UK general elections, indicating the
“For example, you can see that the degree of political consensus.
volumes are growing, but at the

4. Innovation in aircraft
same time the airlines are not getting At the same time, the UK industry’s
richer,” he said. “One of the reasons ability to export components and
for growth is that the cost of travel systems to other countries is also
is going down, and we have to have being developed. The National
to have products that will be cleaner, Aerospace Technology Exploitation
more efficient but still cheaper.” Programme has been set up with a
£40 million fund specifically aimed to
The strategy for innovation within develop innovation within the supply Most fixed-wing aircraft in Demands from the public are for
the AGP is founded on a £2 billion chain outside the big name companies service today are recognisably more sustainable forms of aviation:
96% of those who took the survey
investment by government and such as BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce. the descendants of the first planes
agreed that they wanted flying to
that flew just over a century ago.
be more environmentally friendly.
There has been limited change in The same demand can be heard from
The Rolls-Royce their configuration and reliance on the regulators. The European Union’s
Trent XWB
fossil fuels since the introduction Flightpath 2050 strategy, which set
© Rolls-Royce
of the jet engine in the early targets for the European industry to
1950s. The predicted demands 2050, wants to see carbon dioxide
emissions associated with aviation
on aerospace industry as 2050
reduced by 75% and noise by 65%
approaches suggest that more compared to the year 2000.
radical change will be needed if CO2
emissions targets are to be met. These targets, Remy said, demanded
a new approach: “We have to rethink
the nature of the basic vehicle for the
More electric flight first time since about 1950,” he said.
Recently, Airbus Group’s all-electric
Sébastien Remy, Head of Airbus Group technology demonstrator, the E-Fan,
Innovations, said that the pressure made its maiden flight. The small
to change the norms of the aerospace plane has two 30kW motors, using
industry was coming from consumers lithium-ion batteries, and can fly for
as well as regulators. A survey of around 45 minutes.
airline passengers indicated a finding
that was apparently contradictory: Airbus Group is not the only company
32% of those polled said that flight that is investigating electric
delays and late arrivals are the propulsion, but it is the biggest.
greatest annoyance of air travel, yet Remy highlighted the potential for
two-thirds said they still expected to electrical concepts to be transferred
fly more. to helicopters or regional jets. Despite

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the existence of the prototype, The hybrid air vehicle
however, and the intention to build
several more examples from 2017, Innovation is also being seen in earlier
there are fundamental questions aerospace vehicles. Airships never
that need to be addressed before quite went away, but attempts to
electric flight becomes a viable option. commercialise their development
Aircraft have to undergo rigorous and operation have proceeded very
certification processes before they slowly over the past 60 years, in
are allowed to operate commercially contrast to the rapid growth in more
and this would need to be adapted for conventional aerospace.
electric aircraft, he pointed out.
What makes a return to airships
There are technological attractive, said David Stewart, Photo © Hybrid
fundamentals that have to be Head of Flight Sciences at Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd
tackled as well. As illustrated in the Air Vehicles Ltd, is their inherent
automotive industry, low battery sustainable credentials and a series
storage capacity is a current barrier. of operational virtues that have been
Weight and power density also are rather overlooked in the period when
problems that have appeared in the aerospace growth was achieved
demonstrator. The E-Fan has been an through increasing passenger not just on the smaller version, but also being developed. The hull fabric
attempt to design an electric aircraft numbers and a concentration on also using CFD software and in a is a combination of strong materials
from first principles, but Remy said speed. wind tunnel. and is designed not to stretch; the
there was a lot further to go in terms vessel as a whole has been designed
of rethinking aircraft architecture. “There are in fact a lot of persistent The Airlander 10, which is already for safety and stability, with a small
This had to be done within the airborne applications and some new the biggest aircraft of any type in the pressure differential so that any leaks
context of customers – both the ones for which lighter-than-air hybrid world, has a payload of around 10 would be very slow.
operators and potential passengers vehicles are a real option,” he said. tonnes, but the Airlander 50 will lift
– who now expect improving These include tasks such as telecoms up to 65 tonnes and can accommodate The Airlander series is seen as a cross
technology and costs kept down. relay work and climate observation, up to six standard 20-foot ISO between an aircraft and a blimp-style
where the ability to fly for five shipping containers, as well as 50 balloon. It has attracted government
days at up to 100 mph without passengers. The aircraft includes research funding as well as significant
refuelling is more important than features such as vectored thrust financial backing from the lead singer
any requirement for speed. “We also for lifting, landing and precision of the heavy metal rock band Iron
see a big opportunity in supplying positioning control at low speeds, Maiden.
very remote areas,” Stewart said. with a hovercraft landing system
“Essentially, hybrid air vehicles can
take off and land on any flat surface.”

Hybrid Air Vehicles’ current Airlander “We also see a big opportunity in supplying very
10 is due to make its first flight in
late 2014. It will act as a testbed for remote areas… essentially, hybrid air vehicles can take
a range of innovative technologies off and land on any flat surface.”
to be used in a much bigger version,
the Airlander 50, that the company
intends to launch before the end of
the decade. “The Airlander 10 will tell
Photo © Hybrid us a lot,” Stewart said. New systems
Air Vehicles Ltd for the Airlander 50 are being tested

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“Our goals are to improve safety, reduce delays,
improve flight efficiency and reduce the costs…”

5. Innovation in flight

Proposals to expand airport Innovation in air traffic control

capacity in South East England
have been controversial for more David Hawken, Engineering Director
of Operations at NATS (formerly the
than a generation, and are part of
National Air Traffic Services), outlined
a wider debate about the need to the existing system of complex
add flight infrastructure capacity to sensors that are used to schedule the
cope with projected increases in air 6,000 flights each day in the UK. The
traffic. Ground-based infrastructure system comprises a vast network of
is only part of the debate. radars, ground-to-air communications
systems, ground-to-ground
Increasing numbers of flights
infrastructure, other navigational
create the need for continuous aids and links to satellites. The
Photo © Hybrid
innovation in air traffic control to challenge is to optimise flights that
Air Vehicles Ltd
keep the skies safe. are, by their very nature, difficult to
predict and control.
There is additional pressure on
systems from the different kinds of Delays in the air and on the ground
aircraft now under development, rated as some of the most complained
including airships and unmanned about features of air travel, and are
air vehicles, that do not fit into the used by NATS as the base measures of
current patterns of air traffic and that its success. Increasing traffic is driving
need to be integrated into control new ways of thinking. “Our goals are
systems. to improve safety, reduce delays,

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Innovation in flight operations

previous manual systems, the new Unmanned air vehicles

software-based system enables
direct links to be made to the cockpit Fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters,
of each individual flight for seamless airships – what most ‘air vehicles’
data flow. have had in common is that they are
piloted. The pilot’s responsibilities
Further innovation in software is also include the safety of any passengers
proving the safety case for a change and cargo, liaison with ground-based
to landing patterns at UK airports. air traffic control, monitoring the
Air traffic control uses a time-based health of the aircraft and the difficult
separation of aircraft, which gives manoeuvres of take-off, landing and
the required safety margin with an avoiding others in the same airspace.
element of contingency for factors Unpiloted aerial vehicles such as
such as gusty headwinds. “We’re rockets and drone planes have been
now doing a simulation to see if, by used as weapons and for surveillance
slowing the landing speeds down, we in times of war, but have otherwise
could bring aircraft closer together,” been rigidly segregated from other
Hawken said. “The evidence so far airspace users where they might
is that we might save about half the cause problems.
delays we get at Heathrow, which
could be around 1,300 hours a year,
and the hard part in all of this will be
convincing ourselves that it is safe.”
Photo © NATS
aircraft © Thales
improve flight efficiency and reduce The 18 minutes are not an arbitrary
the costs,” Hawken said. Aircraft measure: “It proved to be the best
being forced to circle before landing optimisation between accuracy
are an environmental and economic and usefulness,” he said. Aircraft
cost as well as an annoyance. “But vary in their performance and in
we also see flight operators wanting the way they are piloted, so any
to start up a new route in a matter of longer extrapolation would create
weeks rather than years,” he said. uncertainties. The system works
from the aircraft’s current position,
Innovation in air traffic control means its flight plan, weather conditions and
being “more dynamic and more agile” aircraft type.
– and increasingly, that means using
the power of software systems to Results so far have been encouraging,
optimise the complexities. “Our future Hawken said. “Our estimate is
air-traffic control tools are a four- that there has been about a 20%
dimensional control system. It enables improvement in the safety risk index.
us to look ahead by 18 minutes to You can also measure it in terms of
see where individual flights might fuel saved through more efficient
come into conflict on their flight plans aircraft handling, and we think it’s
and what we can then do about it,” saved around £6 million or 10,000
Hawken said. tonnes of fuel.” More than that, unlike

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Innovation in flight operations

“The challenge now is to get out of for tasks such as televising sports and This flight showed the potential ASTRAEA is now setting out a follow-
this constraint of segregation,” said aerial archaeological investigation. of unmanned flight, but it also on programme of work to verify
Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal FREng, highlighted areas for further research. and validate the key technologies,
Programme Director of ASTRAEA, “Essentially, this is a systems which include detect and avoid,
the UK consortium of aerospace engineering problem,” Dopping- “We could transmit all the on-board and communications integrity and
companies that is researching how Hepenstal said. “If we take the pilots data to the ground pilot, but there security. The programme team is
unmanned aircraft might be allowed out, we have to be able to replicate would be a lot of it,” Dopping- working with the aerospace industry’s
to operate safely in non-segregated the tasks that are done by them.” Hepenstal said. “We have limited new Aerospace Technology Institute
airspace. ASTRAEA is not talking To some degree, this can be achieved bandwidth and we also have to allow as well as regulatory bodies in the
about dropping the pilot from regular by transferring some of the pilot’s for the possibility of losing the link UK, Europe and beyond. Technology
scheduled passenger flights, Dopping- responsibilities to a ground-based and for aircraft technical failures. innovations, Dopping-Hepenstal said,
Hepenstal stressed. Rather, there pilot, perhaps sitting alongside air For that reason, we need to transfer are only part of it, there are also legal
are a wide range of applications in traffic control, but some will have to some of the pilot’s intelligence into and societal issues that need to be
areas such as telecommunications, remain in the aircraft. the aircraft itself, our autonomous addressed.
agriculture, and search and rescue, system.”
where unmanned aircraft can take Last year, the ASTRAEA project flew a
advantage of longer endurance and small turboprop aircraft under ground
an ability to operate in hazardous control from BAE Systems’ Warton
environments as they are not carrying base in Lancashire to Inverness, using
a pilot on board. Already, there are the commercial airways. There were
examples of small-scale unmanned safety pilots on board, but the flight “If we take the pilots out, we have to be able to
aircraft being used in restricted areas was controlled from the ground. replicate the tasks that are done by them.”
with unmanned
© Callen-Lenz

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Innovation in components and materials

“Weight is a key factor in today’s industry, and Composites are also an important “We can look at other functions as
technology in terms of meeting other well by bringing metallic elements
composites have a role to play in taking weight out.” requirements, Hancock said. “Weight such as aluminium into the composite
Lower weight can be equated directly to savings in is a key factor in today’s industry, construction,” Hancock said.
and composites have a role to play in Resistance to physical phenomena
both fuel usage and emissions taking weight out.” Lower weight can such as lightning strikes, erosion,
be equated directly to savings in both bird strikes and thermal performance
fuel usage and emissions. might be built in, but there is scope
too to design composites specifically
Technologies such as carbon for other factors, such as their
nanotubes and high temperature manufacturability.
resins offered potential for weight-

6. Innovation in
saving within their own right. But This kind of thinking could go further
Meggitt is looking beyond the material still. If a new layer within a composite
gains that can be made to a new material is a sensor of some kind,

components and materials

kind of ‘multi-function composite’ then there is potential to modify its
that blends material properties with behaviour during a flight: to switch
component functions in the same functions on and off. Further layers
structure. “It’s about composites that might add new functions such as
bear load but are also carrying out prognostics and diagnostics.
other functions,” he said.
Hancock said that these ideas from
Since the very beginning of What the two share from their
Functions that might be considered an integral part of both the Clean
manned flight, aerospace has different perspectives and their
for incorporation in future composites Sky programme, which is funded
different technologies is the broader
been a testbed for new materials, include cost, weight, power efficiency by the EU, and internally funded
innovation challenge that faces
especially composites, and the whole aerospace sector: how
or diagnostics. A current Meggitt programmes to support the ‘more
also for broader technology project is looking at an ice protection electric aircraft’. Their potential
to make the projected growth in air
innovations in the engineering system where an electrofoil with effects on weight and reaching
traffic to 2050 sustainable in terms of
a low-power heating element is sustainability challenges facing the
of power efficiency. Although environmental impact, fuel efficiency
encapsulated inside the composite. industry are large.
the engineering of subsystems and cost.
such as aero-engines and the air
frame might appear very diverse Multifunctional composites in
in terms of technology, there has components
been surprising crossover and
commonality in some aspects; Composites that combine the
for instance, titanium alloys and properties of one set of materials with
those of another have been widely
ceramics have found applications
used in the aerospace industry since
in both. the 1950s, said Mark Hancock, Chief
Engineer at Meggitt Polymers and
The final session of the event brought Composites. The benefit that the
together two of the UK’s world- industry has derived from them has
leading aerospace groups. Meggitt is been the ability to ‘tune’ materials to
a diversified materials, components survive the range of harsh conditions
and sensors group, while Rolls-Royce that aerospace structures meet in
is one of the global giants of the aero- service.
engines business.

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Rolls-Royce is close to
achieving these targets,
but then there are even
bigger targets for the
middle of the century.
“We still have a long
way to go on CO2, NOx
and noise,” he said.
And the pressure is
on. The rise of fuel
cost over the lifetime Photo
of the Trent engine © Rolls-Royce
series, since 1995,
means that fuel now
accounts for around
half of the cost
of flying.

The pace of technology

change and the introduction Specific goals to achieve by 2020 are carbon dioxide
The optimum of new product in something
as complex as aeroengines is
emissions reduced by 20%, nitrogen oxide reduced by
© Rolls-Royce necessarily slow. Rolls-Royce has 60% and noise halved from levels in 2000
a highly structured innovation
Innovation in propulsion units strategy: Vision 5 is about near-
market innovations that will be
Rolls-Royce, one of the most powerful realised within the next two to five The breadth of technologies that and fundamentals such as the basic
companies in world aerospace, years; Vision 10 concepts are under Rolls-Royce has to investigate in architecture of the aircraft and where
is under constant pressure to development today for potential order to achieve gains in these areas propulsion units are sited are also
improve the fuel efficiency and introduction in perhaps 10 years’ is huge: from high temperature questioned.
the environmental impact of its time; and Vision 20 technologies are materials to combustion technologies
aeroengines. Alan Newby, Chief a distant view of ideas that could to infinitesimally small changes in The experience of Rolls-Royce,
Engineer of its Future Programmes make a big difference over a longer fan design and operation. Innovation Newby said, is that there will
and Technology Division, told the time scale. at Rolls-Royce is about continuous continue to be no shortage of
event that two-thirds of the group’s improvement that feeds into what challenges that will require
£1.118 billion a year research and The targets for 2050 are challenging, is already a well-defined path of innovation. There will be no shortage,
development expenditure went on Newby said, “but we’re confident new engine launches scheduled either, of potential technologies
environmental issues. that there is a lot of life still in the for the next 10 years. At the same that will be brought in to fuel the
gas turbine engine. To get to all time, more novel concepts such as growth of the future in this globally
The environmental targets that Rolls- of the Trent engines achieving gear-driven fans, variable pitch and important industry.
Royce has been set are pressing and environmental goals is going to open rotor engines are investigated,
ambitious. Specific goals to achieve require some radical solutions at the
by 2020 are carbon dioxide emissions engine and air frame level. On our
reduced by 20%, nitrogen oxide side, we are working on improving
reduced by 60% and noise halved the propulsive efficiency and the
from levels in 2000. Newby said that thermal cycle.”

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7. Further information 8. Acknowledgements
and reading
Unmanned air vehicles We would like to thank the following speakers for their contribution to
CAA CAP 722: Unmanned Aircraft System Operations in UK Airspace – Innovation in aerospace:
European Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems Roadmap Sir John Parker GBE FREng
President, Royal Academy of Engineering

ASTRAEA programme
Paul Everitt
Chief Executive, ADS Group
Autonomous Systems
Social, Legal and Ethical Issues Sébastien Remy Head of Airbus Group Innovations
Systems_Report_09.pdf David Stewart
Head of Flight Sciences, Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd
David Hawken
Engineering Director Operations, NATS
Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal FREng
Programme Director, ASTRAEA
Mark Hancock
Chief Engineer, Meggitt Polymers and Composites
Alan Newby
Chief Engineer – Future Programmes & Technology, Rolls-Royce

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