A Boeing 767-300ER used to transport the New England Patriots delivered more than one million N95 masks from China to the U.S. on Apr. 2. The plane’s avionics for the trip were enabled at the AMES MRO in Wilmington, Ohio. This is an image posted to the Patriots’ Facebook page showing the aircraft being loaded with N95 masks in Shenzhen, China. Photo: New England Patriots
While cargo carriers, like UPS and FedEx and Atlas Air, have played a significant role in delivering COVID-19 medical relief supplies to the United States from China and other nations, private carriers have also played a part.
One of those efforts resulted in the delivery of more than one million N95 masks to the U.S. from China after the plane touched down at Boston’s Logan Airport on Apr. 2.
In the middle of last month, the Kraft Group, led by Chairman Robert Kraft, the owner of the National Football League champion New England Patriots, entrusted Kraft Sports and Entertainment Chief Operating Officer Jim Nolan with the task of organizing a COVID-19 relief flight to Shenzhen, China to pick up more than one million N95 masks to aid health care workers in the northeastern United States, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island and hard-hit New York City.
Yet, the plane to be used for the journey, a Boeing 767-300ER, while fitted for international flights, was accustomed to journeys in North America to transport the Patriots team, not to international ones to China.
So before the plane could make its sojourn to Anchorage and then Shenzhen, it made a stop at the Wilmington Air Park in Wilmington, Ohio at Aircraft Maintenance & Engineering Services (AMES), a Maintenance and Repair Organization (MRO) and a subsidiary of Air Transport Services Group (ATSG) that bills itself as the world’s largest owner and operator of converted Boeing 767 freighter aircraft.
“In these uncertain times, our maintenance technicians and engineers have been focused on providing critical services to our customers, making it possible for them to pick up and deliver critical supplies to areas that have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic,” AMES president Todd France wrote Avionics International in an email. “The sacrifice and dedication of these technicians to providing world-class service when it is needed the most is a reflection of their character and of the local community where many of them live.”
An Apr. 3 article on Patriots.com quoted Nolan as saying that the 767-300ER used by the Patriots was certified to fly internationally but needed an avionics upgrade for software “to provide a map of the flight path and the ability to communicate with air traffic controllers in that part of the world.”
AMES said that it could not specify its tasks to prepare the aircraft, but Lincoln Francis, the CEO of Naperville, Ill.-based Executive Flight Management, Inc. and Team 125, which bought the 767-300ER in 2016 and refurbished it, said that the work in Wilmington did not involve avionics upgrades but enabling the avionics already on the plane.
Francis was also one of five pilots on the 12-man flight crew that helped fly the plane to and from Shenzhen.
For transoceanic travel, the plane has dual Collins Aerospace HMS-700 high frequency radios and a satellite AFIS system through Honeywell’s Pegasus 2009 Flight Management Computer (FMC), which has 7.5 MB of capacity.
“There was not any upgrade required,” Francis said. “We had turned on a subscription to Honeywell for satellite AFIS/ACARS and a few other items while we were in Wilmington. It was just a matter of getting a few things turned on.”
Team 125, a CFR Part 125 air carrier, provides sports team travel and has spent tens of millions of dollars on buying and restoring two 767-300ERs used by the Patriots. Before their refurbishment, the aircraft had been at an end-of-service boneyard for commercial planes at San Bernardino Airport. American Airlines received the planes in 1991 and retired them in 2016. The aircraft for the Patriots’ use entered service in 2017 and include new Innovative Solutions & Support (IS&S) cockpit flight displays.
Installed on 400 Boeing 757s and 767s, the sunlight readable IS&S LCD flat panel display system features a fewer number of LRUs and a 70 percent reduction in components compared to cathode ray tubes, IS&S said.
Beside AMES and Team 125, Honeywell was also heavily involved in preparing the Team 125 767-300ER for its flight to Shenzhen.
“The [avionics] work performed mainly focused on enabling communications capabilities the aircraft already had for air traffic control and AOC communications, as well as enabling the cabin connectivity system provided via Honeywell’s JetWave Ka SATCOM and Forge cabin connectivity services, which provided the crew with high-speed internet connectivity for the trip along the entire route,” Jason Wissink, the senior sales director of Connected Aircraft for Honeywell Aerospace, wrote in an email to Avionics.
The cockpit of an Air Astana Boeing 767-300ER shows a look at the instrumentation used for the flight to transport the masks from China to the U.S. Photo: Qpano
“For a trip of this [transoceanic] nature multiple forms of long range communications equipment is necessary,” he wrote. “While dual HF radios meet the requirement, HF performance can vary along routes such as these and often a satellite system will provide much clearer voice communications with ATC or the operations center as well as reliable data communications via ACARs.”
To update the 767-300ER’s 28-day Navigation Database (NDB) storing runways over 5,000 feet, Honeywell provided a “customized navigation database with global coverage that was filtered down to only include the runways and procedures needed for this trip, allowing all data to fit into one database,” Wissink wrote in his email.
The plane received satellite communications through an Inmarsat Aero Classic SATCOM which provides communications to ATC via the Aero Classic safety services approved satellite link.
“Part of what really made all this come together was the technical engineering teams at Team 125, AMES, and Honeywell coming together and all working pretty long hours to reconfigure the aircraft in just a few days to have it ready for the trip [to Shenzhen],” Wissink wrote. “I know the teams on all sides worked very hard to get everything updated and configured in a fraction of the time it would normally take.”
The trip to and from Shenzhen was first reported by the Wall Street Journal and Politico on Apr. 2.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker had his state order the masks, but commercial and cargo flights to transport them from China were few and far between so he looked to his friend, Jonathan Kraft, the president of the Kraft Group and the son of Robert Kraft.
That’s where Jonathan Kraft said that one of the Boeing 767-300ERs used by the Patriots could help out.
By all accounts, Nolan worked tirelessly over several weeks to put the operation in play with the crucial aid of Huang Ping, China’s consul general in New York City, who helped get the required flight and flight crew visa documentation approved by the Chinese government.
|Want to hear more on aircraft connectivity applications? Check out the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast, where Avionics editor-in-chief Woodrow Bellamy III interviews airlines and industry influencers on how they’re applying connectivity solutions.|
“An operator has to get permission to fly into and across any countries’ air spaces,” Arnold Oldach, an aviation industry expert, wrote in an email to Avionics. “With the airlines they are granted routes and there are reciprocal arrangements between countries so that their carriers can operate in and out of their respective countries. In this case, they don’t operate as a Part 121 regularly scheduled carrier, but as a Part 125 carrier. They would then need special permission to fly into China.” But Francis said that Team 125 is authorized to fly globally.
“In the timeline of preparation, it was only a question of obtaining permission from China to enter and depart during this pandemic,” he wrote in an email to Avionics. To ease health concerns, the 767-300ER remained on the ground for only three hours in Shenzhen during the loading of the masks, and the crew remained on the plane during that time.
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The Army is seeking industry input on new radio frequency-electronic countermeasure (RF-ECM) capabilities for its aviation fleet. Pictured here is a U.S. Army AH-64E Guardian by Boeing has a MUM-T data link by L3 Technologies. Photo: U.S. Army
The Army is seeking industry input on new radio frequency-electronic countermeasure (RF-ECM) capabilities for its aviation fleet, with plans to conduct prototype demonstrations in late fiscal year 2021.
A draft Request for Information released Tuesday detailed plans to find RF-ECM solutions for Army fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, including its Future Vertical Lift platforms, and field first units in FY ‘28.
“The Army is seeking common technologies and/or component technology that can be scaled to application on various Aviation platforms and component applications to Air Launched Effects,” officials wrote in the notice.
Potential RF-ECM offerings must be able to interface with on-board radar warning receivers (RWR) or provide similar RWR capability, according to the Army.
“If interfaced to the on board RWR, the RF-ECM system shall receive threat activity detection and cueing from the RWR and provide threat information back to the RWR,” the Army wrote.
Interested vendors are asked to detail their RF-ECM capabilities, capacity for in-house lab testing, potential constraints with installation on specific aircraft, open architecture specifics and ability to rapidly reprogram software and hardware components.
Responses will be accepted through May 7 to inform the release of a final RFI in June.
The Army is then expected to release a request for white papers to members of the Aviation and Missile Technology Consortium in early FY ‘21.
This article was originally published in Defense Daily, a sister publication to Avionics.
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L3Harris Technologies has introduced a new cloud-based flight data recorder verification service, Express Readout. Photo: L3Harris Technologies
A new cloud-based service, Express Readout, uses patented algorithms to automate the process of verifying that the functionality of flight data recorders (FDR) meets civil aviation regulatory performance requirements.
The service, unveiled in March by L3Harris Technologies, was developed to identify unusual FDR parameter patterns, highlight them for user inspection and eliminate the need to physically remove or send a recorder off-site for verification. L3Harris Technologies CTO Chris Jesse described the service as being “revolutionary for the industry as it provides operators with the ability to test their equipment and generate the necessary documentation faster than ever before” in a March 26 press release.
Jesse explained to Avionics International how Express Readout automates the occasional recorder checks required by civil aviation authorities.
“The automation consists in having some mathematical algorithms in place to look for correlations between parameters, expected values of specific parameters – per fleet, per flight phase,” Jesse said.
A key aspect of the new service is aimed at removing the need for FDR parameter analysis by MROs and operators. It allows the end user to upload their flight data, choose the regulatory authority they’re providing a verification for and then Express Readout generates the necessary documentation. L3Harris Technologies also provides two different versions of the service, including an automated self-service and a full validation service where one of their data specialist guarantees the generation of the verification report within one business day.
According to Jesse, each flight information region has its own set of rules when it comes to FDR verification checks. In Europe, operators must adhere to “Part-CAT of Regulation (EU) No 965/2012 on Air Operations,” requiring them to conduct operational checks and evaluations of recordings of flight recorders in order to ensure their “continued serviceability.” The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) also recommends several scheduled tasks to comply with this requirement.
Up to 50 flight hours of data across multiple flights can be inspected within the same readout using the new service. FDR parameters to be analyzed include “Signed, Unsigned, BCD and ASCII,” according to Jesse, who also provided examples of the types of verification capabilities of Express Readout.
“Example: we expect Airspeed to be between 250 kt and 350 kt during climb for a B737 NG and we expect Rudder Pedal to be correlated with the Rudder during a ‘turn in flight’. A more subtle automation consists in the fact that between any two parameters there is a correlation – it can be close to null or close to 1 (which translates to a perfect match) – setting the appropriate threshold for the pair of parameters makes the difference between a reliable test and an unreliable test. In the same context we do something called ‘masking’, which basically means we hide bits of the parameters which are not relevant for the scope – we use things like saturation tests and rate of change tests,” Jesse said.
Several unnamed operators have already started using the new service.
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Wind River says the singular architecture of its Helix Virtualization Platform for running embedded systems is more secure from cyber attack than the alternative of running each embedded system independently. EASA and FAA cybersecurity mandates are likely to ramp up in the next two years. Photo: Wind River
Aviation cybersecurity mandates by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are coming in the next two years, according to participants in an Avionics International Apr. 7 webinar, Clearing the Skies of Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities from the Ground Up, .
This year, EASA may adopt AMC 20-42 (NPA 2019-1) that will link information security guidelines to the high-level cyber standards of RTCA DO-326A or the EUROCAE ED-202 series.
Asked during the webinar how the avionics industry has thus far embraced airworthiness cybersecurity standards in RTCA DO-326A, 355 and 356, Alex Wilson, the director of aerospace and defense at Wind River, said that cybersecurity standards “have been adopted slowly, but I think we’ll see a more rapid adoption throughout this year and the coming year.”
“Currently, the standards are more voluntary or applied on a case by case basis on aircraft systems as they go into certification,” he said. “These standards have been around in embryonic form since the [Boeing] 787 [Dreamliner] first went through its airworthiness process [a decade ago].”
Wilson predicted that “once we see those standards being mandated through rules and regulations, we’ll start to see a massive adoption and a requirement of all new avionics systems to go through [these] standards.”
Such mandates may spark, or re-ignite, the operational red teaming of aircraft cyber systems.
It has been unclear what the path forward is for cyber vulnerability testing of airliners in the United States after last month’s decision by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to end the testing of a Boeing 757-200 at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City.
Cyber vulnerabilities are not the exclusive domain of commercial airliners, but also are faced by military and business aircraft and future urban air mobility platforms and by diverse systems, such as onboard radar altimeters, Global Positioning System receivers, and military Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) systems.
Paul Hart, the chief technology officer at Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions, said that combat search and rescue helicopters can have up to 60 computers onboard to run flight control processes, such as take-off and landing, and complex synthetic vision systems, while UAVs normally have less than 10 processors for flight control and detect and avoid systems, and airliners “typically have more than 100 computing platforms.”
While e-Enabled aircraft provide flight and cost advantages for operators, they also come with cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
“The obvious question is, ‘Isn’t it just safer to separate from the Internet?’” Wilson asked at the start of his webinar presentation. “Why should we e-Enable and connect our aircraft? There’s a whole list of reasons why we might want to do that. In this modern age, everyone is going through a process of digital transformation, moving to more intelligent platforms, and that gives us huge benefits in terms of operational efficiency, the ability to implement new advanced technologies, such as predictive maintenance so that we can reduce operational costs of our aircraft systems and allow us to update more efficiently the aircraft systems themselves, such as weather data on the aircraft and other data sources.”
“That also allows us to increase the amount of revenue we’re getting from our passenger systems and provide a better passenger experience while we fly,” Wilson said. “There are huge challenges when we look at aviation systems that are very different to those we see in the IT world. Within the IT world we tend to see applications moving to the Cloud-based systems and moving very quickly with new updates daily and new features and functionality. The security standards within the IT world are certainly not well suited to the aviation world so we need to think about how we manage that. Also, within the IT world we tend to see systems being updated very rapidly compared to the update cycle that we see within our aircraft. So there are lots of challenges as we start to connect and provide that Internet connectivity.”
These are the guidelines for cybersecurity associated with connected aircraft systems, which as of today, are not mandated by civil aviation authorities. Photo: Wind River
Indeed, while relatively isolated ACARS and VHF video data links and, more recently ADS-B (In) and ADS-B (Out) were the major features of aircraft electronics, aircraft wireless connectivity has opened up a range of vulnerabilities, Hart said. Instead of leather flight bags with paper charts, aircrews now can carry aboard Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) tablets and iPads that are able, through aircraft Wi-Fi, to obtain flight parameters to calculate take-off performance, for example. Maintenance engineers can also connect wirelessly to avionics systems of flight line aircraft through laptop Portable Maintenance Aids (PMA) for troubleshooting aircraft systems.
To update its cybersecurity policy as new threats emerge, Wind River uses the CIA Triad technique, which maps requirements against the three pillars of cybersecurity: Confidentiality, sustaining data the privacy of data being transmitted and stored, such as map data; Integrity–the accuracy of data during and after software updates, for example; and Availability for the uninterrupted flow of data, even in the face of common denial of service cyber attacks.
|Want to hear more on aircraft connectivity applications? Check out the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast, where Avionics editor-in-chief Woodrow Bellamy III interviews airlines and industry influencers on how they’re applying connectivity solutions.|
Michael Mehlberg, vice president of marketing at Star Lab, a Wind River subsidiary, said that Wind River has adopted a cybersecurity first holistic approach through an examination of how cyber components interact with one another and a “defense in depth” with layers of cyber protection. Linux-based embedded systems, for example, while flexible, also have vulnerabilities, which Wind River mitigates through such means as operating system-level hardening, Linux LSM (Security-Enhanced Linux stacking), immutable deployment configurations, and multiple file systems, such as the authentication and/or encryption of applications, libraries, and data.
In addition, a secure boot process is a “massively important part of the cybersecurity process” to ensure no cyber intrusion happens while computer systems are at rest.
“The security policy and configuration really has to be a combination of products, product features, advanced security features, professional services to provide and mitigate a security assessment and add additional security where required and a combination of partnerships, for instance the Curtiss-Wright hardware with the Wind River software, in order to implement a secure system,” Wilson said.
The upcoming EASA and FAA mandates may have implications for military systems as well.
Cybersecurity for military aircraft and legacy platforms is “one of the classic challenges we face in not just aircraft systems, but all systems,” Wilson said.
“A lot of these systems have really not been designed to be connected in the way we imagine, and so we are exposing them to more and more threats, as we start to connect them to the Internet or even to any communications system,” he said. “Adding a communications interface to an aircraft system or any system is really starting to open that out to vulnerabilities that weren’t planned into the system when it was originally designed. For any legacy platforms or military aircraft, you have to think about what are the consequences of adding that connectivity.”
“In some cases, they already have communication links,” Wilson said. “We need to make sure that the communication links we are using have been secured in the right way for deployment in the field. We already know from experience that some very early unmanned aircraft systems that were deployed straight from the lab in effect into operational scenarios were exposed to security issues that hadn’t been taken into account.”
“As we start to think about security more and more and start to implement security across all embedded systems, in fact all computer systems, and we become more aware about how security operates, we need to figure out how we protect all of these types of systems,” he said. “If you are going to connect a legacy platform to the network, instantly that opens that vulnerability up and you should go through a security assessment to see what vulnerabilities you would need to protect against through that data link. Are you using an encrypted data link, for example, to that system? Are you using secure boot on the data link to make sure nothing can infiltrate it and get in? All those kinds of techniques, we would have to figure out how we implement that, and of course that is going to have a cost effect on our systems.”
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Business aviation OEMs are adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic. Embraer, for example, is making ventilator parts, while Honeywell is producing N95 masks. Pictured here is the flight deck of an Embraer Legacy 650, which features a Honeywell Primus Elite avionics suite. Photo: Embraer
Business aviation OEMs in the United States are looking to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), P.L. 116-136, to help sustain their suppliers, including avionics makers and small businesses. The CARES Act became law on March 27.
“One thing that I found in talking to virtually all the OEMs over the last few weeks is that they know how to manage their companies and their operations, but their big concern – and I think you find this even on the commercial manufacturers’ side whether it’s Boeing or Airbus – is that they’re very concerned about the supply base, and that they want to direct as much help as they can down to that supply base because that’s their life blood,” Pete Bunce, the president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), said during an Aviation International News webinar on Apr. 7 on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on business aviation and prospects for recovery.
“Being able to provide them [OEMs] tools on how to access the assistance that’s available through the CARES Act has been a primary focus,” Bunce said. “We have told [Capitol] Hill, and the Hill has responded with some very good information on how the legislation was crafted to be able to go ahead and allow businesses to say, ‘Ok. That’s how I do it.’ There’s a delay in the [CARES Act] implementing procedures, but we hope that that money will be flowing very soon, and we think that will be very vital to keep that supplier base vibrant during this period of time until we can get [business jet] production going again.”
GAMA pointed to paycheck protection loans available to small businesses for job retention and other expenses.
The CARES Act provides up to $25 billion for U.S.-based passenger air carriers, $4 billion for cargo air carriers, and $3 billion to contractors to sustain employee wages and benefits.
In Europe, business aviation has been “severely impacted” by COVID-19, and the 374,000 workers in the business aviation sector in Europe “face very uncertain times,” as business aviation traffic dropped off 72 percent in the last week of March, said Athar Husain Khan, secretary-general of the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA).
One-third of business aviation operators in Europe have halted operations, while 25 percent have laid off staff, he said.
“We’re calling for national measures to cover the cost of staff who are unable to work during the current situation, either through layoffs or being put on hold for some time,” Khan said.
“With respect to whether or not we are going to see operational measures to deal with staff in a different way as today, I must admit I don’t necessarily see that,” he said. “That’s not what we’re hearing from the regulators at the moment here in Europe. What we are seeing is that there is a lot of empathy and sympathy for the fact that we do not want to lay off people in the midst of this crisis. Any measures that we can push for and which we are doing as EBAA to make sure that people do not have to be laid off is something that we will drive for and keep on driving for.”
Bunce and Khan said that business aviation looks to attract many youth into the sector through innovations, such as electrification and urban air mobility, once the COVID-19 crisis abates.
Business aviation emergency medical service flights and cargo and repatriation flights continue, and companies have also re-tooled to produce N95 masks and ventilators to fight COVID-19.
Embraer, for example, said last month that it would begin producing ventilator parts, while Honeywell said that it plans to produce millions of N95 masks for the United States. During a recent press conference at the White House, Greg Hayes announced that UTC and its businesses will produce 10,000 face shields over the next four weeks to provide to doctors and nurses. Collins Aerospace teams, particularly in additive manufacturing, will participate in the effort. Universal Avionics is currently providing the non-profit group, Hope Worldwide , with assembly line space at their Tucson, Arizona headquarters to manufacture medical face masks and shields.
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In this article, Andrew Patton, advisory board member and angel investor for ZeroAvia, a U.K.-based startup currently developing a zero-emission powertrain for aircraft, discusses the potential benefits electric propulsion could bring to commercial aviation in the future. Pictured here, is the Vahana, an experimental self-piloted electric aircraft that Airbus flight tested for several years as a way to evaluate the technical challenges associated with electric air taxi operations. Photo: Airbus
In many ways, the history of commercial aviation has been a quest for more speed, altitude, and economy. Propulsion technology, in particular, has played a crucial role in reaching these goals, and historically, the introduction of advanced propulsion tech has driven dramatic advances in aircraft capability.
Today, the industry is beginning another sea change in propulsion technology. Electric propulsion promises reduced fuel costs, longer maintenance intervals, and increased reliability, to say nothing of its environmental benefits. What’s exciting about a move to electric power, is how it will fundamentally change aviation in the ways that we cannot yet clearly predict, much as the jet turbine forever changed the way we flew 60 years ago.
The Complexity of the Piston Engine
By the 1940s, wartime generated massive pressure on aviation to achieve new performance levels. As the demand for engine power increased, so did engine size and complexity. Adding more cylinders, superchargers, turbochargers, and other power generation devices introduced additional complexity and moving parts, each of which came with its collection of failure modes. Many of these parts needed to change direction millions of times and initiate millions of separate combustion events during each hour of operation. As power output increased, reliability and high power-to-weight ratios only became more challenging to achieve.
For postwar airlines, these powerplant-based limitations restricted the development of the size and speed of aircraft. In general, scaling much past 100 seats was problematic, and these smaller aircraft were not as well-equipped to bear the fixed costs of the crew and other overhead. Thus: high prices and limited ability to unlock latent demand at lower prices.
The Simplicity of the Turbine Engine
From front to back, a gas turbine works by having a compressor that sucks in air, compresses it to high pressure, then injects fuel into this compressed gas, which combusts, adding energy to the system. Then, the hot, high-pressure exhaust gas releases through a turbine, which spins in response. This turbine is what directly drives the compressor.
The gas turbine showed promise from the beginning because of the comparative simplicity of its design: a single moving part (more or less) and a continuous combustion event, initiated at engine startup. As turbine technology has developed, first as the turbojet, then as the turboprop and the turbofan, engineers developed ways to manufacture increasingly intricate and performant components (e.g., turbofan blades, single-piece “blisks,” etc.). Yet the underlying topology of the powerplant has mainly remained the same. Indeed, modern large turbofans have become increasingly reliable as their power output has grown – in stark contrast to piston technology.
This ability to scale gracefully and reliably to higher power levels directly translated to more substantial and faster airliners – and almost immediately, quantum leaps were realized. In its very first configuration, the Boeing 707 carried more passengers than the Super Constellation, cruised at nearly twice the speed, and flew above far more inclement weather. Rapid evolution brought the 747 into service just over a decade later – with over three times as many seats as the 707.
The introduction of the jet turbine provided undeniable benefits. However, one performance metric in which they are still relatively similar to a piston engine is fuel efficiency: specifically fuel consumed per seat-mile. Though turbines have improved since their infancy, on a per-mile, per-seat basis, modern jet aircraft only now match 1950s-era piston-engine airliners on this same metric.
Fuel isn’t entirely fair to jets, as they are traveling nearly twice as fast as the fastest piston-engine airliners. Still, it highlights an ongoing problem that is both environmental and economic. The global airline industry spends almost $190B annually on fuel, and this is one of its most significant single expenses at over 20 percent of revenue.
The Potential of Electric Aviation
The promise of pollution-free aviation is exciting, but efficient financial markets, savvy shareholders, and profit-driven airline executives are unlikely to sign up for electric power unless it can significantly benefit their bottom line. If the electrification of road travel is any example, the electric flight has the promise to reduce costs, decrease air pollution, and increase safety/reliability.
Electric Motors: Even Simpler than Turbines?
Most obviously, the simple, single-moving-part topology of electric motors is similar to jet aircraft. However, electric motors do not require a high-temperature power turbine section, which must withstand incredible thermal stresses while rotating at extremely high speed. This technical influence makes them simpler to construct and maintain, and, we expect, will offer a dramatic extension of required maintenance intervals.
Today, aviation-capable electric motors are available, but only at relatively low power levels: under 1MW. But efforts are underway to scale output. One exciting project in Germany seeks to demonstrate extraordinarily lightweight and powerful superconducting motors in the 1-10MW class. These motors should offer superior power-to-weight ratios as compared to turbines.
Batteries for Aviation: Two Critical Problems
In order to drive electric motors, we need a source of electrical power. It can be provided by batteries. Battery cells are at the center of transport discussions – from electric vehicles to train locomotives. But two fundamental limitations make batteries unsuitable for aviation.
First – today’s batteries are too heavy, on an energy-per-unit-mass basis, to practically power an aircraft. Depending on how one measures their specific energy, electric-battery powertrains are about 10x as heavy as a comparable kerosene-powered turboprop. Aircraft are incredibly weight-sensitive; their performance is degraded in a nonlinear way if overweight.
Worse yet, the history of battery evolution over the past 30 years shows minimal annual improvement (on the order of 4 percent) of this metric. So, barring the development of a disruptive new lightweight battery chemistry, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a battery with the power-to-weight ratio needed for commercial aviation applications any time soon.
Second – batteries do not charge quickly. While modern airliners can be refueled entirely after a multi-hour flight in a matter of minutes, today, the best production battery packs available have recharge times of over 45 minutes. Similarly, there’s no reason to believe that this will suddenly change barring fundamentally new chemistries.
To better understand why these two things are essential in aircraft, we can look at the utilization and energy storage mass fraction (see chart below) of several different types of vehicles.
Types of utilization examples listed on the graph: GE AC6000CW is a rail transport system; Boeing 737 is an aircraft; Freightliner Cascadia is an on-highway truck; Toyota Camry is a mid-size car; BMW R1200GS is a motorcycle.
Batteries are excellent for low-utilization, low-energy-storage-mass applications like personal vehicles, where there is plenty of downtimes to recharge. But larger vehicles that use a higher fraction of each day are difficult for batteries. In essence, there’s either not enough time in the day to charge them, or an expensive solution, like swappable battery packs, must be implemented.
Additionally, ground vehicles, which have a tiny fraction of their mass consumed by fuel (<10%), typically can accommodate the increased weight of electric battery storage. Aircraft, though, already have significantly higher mass fractions devoted to fuel (quickly above 25%). There’s no room to increase energy storage mass without greatly degrading performance (range, payload, or both).
Hydrogen as Aviation Fuel
But there is an alternative. Opting for a Hydrogen Fuel Cell (H2FC) solution has the potential to reach the high energy densities required by aviation. Current H2FC drivetrains based on automotive technology already have a power-to-weight ratio that’s only 3x lower than current turbine propulsion. And with further technological developments, H2FC systems can eventually deliver the power/weight ratios required to meet the demand of today’s commercial air travel.
Today, the best production battery packs today have 200 watt-hour/kilogram (Wh/kg) energy density, 1,000-2,000 cycle life, and recharge time of over 45 minutes. In contrast, a liquid hydrogen fuel cell system can get to more than 3,000 Wh/kg, over 15,000 cycle lifetime, and can refuel in 20 minutes. Therefore, the higher the energy intensity and utilization, the more the balance tips towards hydrogen.
Andrew Patton, an aerobatic pilot who also serves as the strategy and growth lead for Project Wing, is an advisory board member and angel investor at ZeroAvia.
Investments in H2FC and renewable energy pave the way
The automotive industry has been investing in hydrogen fuel cell systems for 30+ years. Today, there are nearly 11,000 H2FC vehicles worldwide. While most are in California and Japan, hydrogen as a transportation fuel is making a resurgence. Japan plans to highlight its hydrogen advancements at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Simultaneously, the cost of renewable electricity generation has quietly dropped below that of fossil-fuel-based electric power. And yet there are no highly viable large-scale energy storage systems to help manage renewable generation. Indeed, there are situations where utilities pay customers to take power during times of low demand or simply turn the renewable source from the grid and forego the benefits of low power prices. Distributed electrolysis can use this surplus renewable power to create hydrogen for aviation fuel, thus providing a “one-way” grid-connected storage capability.
This confluence of fuel cell maturation and the increasing availability of low-cost clean electricity sets the stage for the development of clean hydrogen fuels for aviation.
The aviation industry has continuously reinvented itself around new propulsion modalities over the past century, and we expect this to be no different going forward. We can expect to see the first electric aircraft reaching commercialization within the next five years if airlines, manufacturers and certification bodies embrace these new propulsion technologies and the possibilities they hold for both improving aviation economics and industry decarbonization.
And just as the jet engine transformed aircraft design, we expect the unique characteristics of electric motors to enable more innovation in air vehicle development. These specific changes include distributed propulsion, electrified personal and urban air mobility concepts, a wide range of autonomous crew-less aircraft, and more. Alongside an expansion in air travel, these new applications are perhaps some of the most exciting consequences of moving into an Electric Age of aviation.
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Archer Aviation, a stealth air taxi startup based in Santa Clara, California, is driving up the cost of UAM engineers and poaching talent from established players.
A stealth-mode startup working on electric aircraft is luring engineering talent away from other urban air mobility (UAM) companies with higher salaries, sources within the industry told Avionics International.
Santa Clara-based Archer Aviation, founded by Adam Goldstein and Brett Adcock, are driving up the price of experienced urban air mobility engineers across the region, sources told Avionics. Archer Aviation’s team is believed to be around 20 individuals — “probably enough to do trade studies and build a subscale model,” one source told me.
Archer Aviation has poached key talent from Larry Page-backed Kitty Hawk, developer of the Cora and Heaviside electric VTOL aircraft. The company also hired many former members of Airbus’ Vahana demonstrator team, led by Zach Lovering, which completed its flight testing in December 2019. Lovering is now CEO and founder of Aera Aircraft, a fixed-wing aircraft project launched by portions of the former Vahana team.
“There certainly was a lot of interest in the Vahana team’s future in the second half of 2019,” one industry source told me. “Archer got there first.”
In 2013, Goldstein and Adcock co-founded Vettery, a marketing software-as-a-service company, which the two sold to Switzerland-based staffing firm Adecco Group in 2018 for $100 million, the likely source for Archer Aviation’s funding.
“They probably have a team in place that they finance personally but with quite a high cash burn rate,” another source told me. “Either they raised a round already, or they need to worry about it in the next year or so, which does not sound very good right now,” the source added, referring to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has effectively halted commercial aviation globally and slowed fundraising activity.
Goldstein and Adcock, who worked in banking, financial analysis and private equity prior to building Vettery, are not known to have significant aviation experience, leading many in the urban air mobility industry to view their venture with great skepticism. The founders of Germany-based Lilium, which recently raised $240 million to continue development of its air taxi, also entered the space with little aviation experience, after graduating from the Technical University of Munich (TUM).
Archer Aviation does have a registered aircraft, assigned N213A-001 on July 10, 2019. It is described by the Federal Aviation Administration’s aircraft registry as an ‘unknown’ type aircraft with electric-type engine(s) and a Mode S squawk code assigned, which suggests it has flown. Records on aviationdb.com add that the mystery aircraft has 16 engines and weighs 12,500 lbs or less. One source told Avionics that the aircraft is a lift-plus-cruise concept.
Registration records also list the aircraft’s manufacturer as University of Florida’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research Program lab, a multidisciplinary team of researchers working on small UAS for various research and monitoring purposes since the early aughts. Adcock and Goldstein are both alumni of University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business.
Current employees of UF UASRP did not respond to requests for clarification of the link between the lab and Archer Aviation, though one former employee who left in 2018 said they were not aware of the company or any aircraft project that fit the description.
“Until your email, I was not aware of a company named ‘Archer Aviation,’ nor an aircraft manufactured by the UFUASRP with 16 engines, the former employee told Avionics. “If this did come out of the UFUASRP, its design and construction would have had to occur after my departure.”
Goldstein declined to comment on his company’s activities for this article. “At this time, we’re not going to be commenting on what Brett and I are working on at Archer,” he told me via LinkedIn. “We’ll reach out to you when the time is right to dive into the details and the vision for our company.”
The best available description of Archer Aviation’s mission at the moment comes from a February 3 listing on StateAviationJournal.com, announcing the company as a new member of standards organization RTCA.
“Archer’s mission is to accelerate the benefits of sustainable air mobility,” the website states. “The company is currently developing an electric aircraft.”
Right now, the company’s biggest impact is on the price and availability of urban air mobility engineering talent.
One source with knowledge of industry-wide hiring trends said they believe Archer Aviation’s impact on salaries will be short-lived, and the cost to acquire talent will normalize this year — “back to pre-Archer levels.”
This article has been updated to accurately reflect background of the founders of Lilium.
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To discuss the pandemic’s impact on business aviation, we’re joined by (left to right) Ian Moore from VistaJet, Per Marthinsson from Avinode Group, and Peter Antonenko from Jetcraft.
On the second of this new four-part podcast series, we discuss the operational impact of the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus global pandemic on business aviation.
Guests on this episode include the following:
At 01:30, Moore discusses how the outbreak of coronavirus and the travel restrictions placed on commercial airlines in March actually lead to an increase in demand for VistaJet charter flights, and how he expects the industry to operate under the new reality as well as what a recovery could look like and when.
At 24:40, Marthinsson discusses how Avinode saw enormous jumps in demand for air charter as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Avinode is an online marketplace for available business jets for any given trip, connecting air charter operators and brokers, representing over 3,000 aircraft that are actively available for charter and handling more than 450,000 charter requests between brokers and operators per month.
At 45:20, Antonenko explains how the outbreak of the crisis actually makes it an ideal time to find and buy a pre-owned business jet, and how an online business jet dealer such as Jetcraft is continuing to operate amid the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Have suggestions or topics we should focus on in the upcoming episodes as part of this new series? Email the host, Woodrow Bellamy at email@example.com, or drop him a line on Twitter @WbellamyIIIAC.
Listen to this episode below, or check it out on iTunes. If you like the show, subscribe on your favorite podcast app to get new episodes as soon as they’re released.
Don’t forget to check out www.gcasummit.com for more information on the Global Connected Aircraft Summit, as we determine how to safely proceed with the event.
The post PODCAST SERIES Pt. 2: Aerospace Industry Outlook Under the Coronavirus Pandemic – BUSINESS AVIATION appeared first on Avionics.
EHang received an ‘operational flight permit’ from Norway’s Civil Aviation Authority, allowing it to conduct long-term flight testing in the country. (EHang)
Chinese autonomous aerial vehicle maker EHang has obtained an ‘operational flight permit’ from the Civil Aviation Authority of Norway for its two-seat EHang 216 — its first such approval in Europe.
The permit allows EHang to “conduct flights together with a local customer for the purpose of testing and certification,” according to the company’s press release, with flights beginning at Salangen Airport in Elvenes.
“The autonomous passenger aircrafts of the future can contribute to more efficient transport, particularly in urban areas, and the electric models are a great contribution to the green shift, said Bente Heggedal, Norway CAA’s head of unmanned aviation. “We look forward to EHang demonstrating a well-proven and secure system, so that passenger AAVs can be a safe alternative for passenger transport.”
The regulatory agency believes Norway’s geographic conditions — an abundance of sparsely-populated areas and free airspace, with a network of small airports — could be well-suited for the testing of unmanned aircraft, according to EHang’. Norway’s CAA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
EHang has pursued several partnerships in Europe, including with network provider Vodafone — which will exclusively provide connectivity for all EHang vehicles in Europe through its SIM cards — and Austria-based manufacturer FACC, which will help bring its aircraft to production.
The company is taking an unmanned, networked approach to its eVTOL aircraft development, seeking to provide simultaneous control of many aircraft with a command-and-control center operating constantly.
According to the Vertical Flight Society’s eVTOL database, the EHang 216 can reach speeds up to 81 mph, carry two passengers and has a max range of 22 miles. The 216 reportedly needs 120 minutes to recharge its batteries, according to Paul Ridden of the New Atlas. EHang did not respond to requests for comment or clarification.
In announcing its permit from Norway’s CAA, EHang noted the significance of offshore drilling platforms to Norway’s economy and the amount of transportation work, currently fulfilled by medium and large helicopters, that supports the sector — suggesting its unmanned aircraft may provide a better solution.
“In the new wave of the development of the oil industry in Norway, EHang expects to empower the O&G industry with our AAV technologies to reduce costs and increase efficiencies, and promote the use of green energy,” said HuHuazhi, founder and chairman of EHang.
However, the EHang 216’s maximum range, reported at 22 miles — before taking into account the chilling effects of cold environments on battery life — is likely not sufficient to transport people or supplies to most oil rigs in the North Sea, which are often located more than a hundred miles offshore.
Most eVTOL aircraft developers, such as those partnered with Uber Elevate, are focused on short, inner-city hops, and there is are technological limitations driving that: current battery storage densities render all-electric aircraft incapable of achieving the maximum gross takeoff weight and range necessary to perform missions like transportation to and from offshore oil rigs.
It will likely be decades before an all-electric aircraft will match the performance of the Airbus H225 or Sikorsky S-92, with the latter capable of carrying 19 passengers over 600 nautical miles.
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Boeing unveiled its Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) design on March 3, and a company official said that its avionics approach to FARA is focused on “full implementation” of the U.S. Army’s Modular Open Systems Architecture (MOSA). Photo: Boeing
Boeing’s avionics approach to the company’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) design, released on March 3, is focused on “full implementation” of the U.S. Army’s Modular Open Systems Architecture (MOSA), according to Shane Openshaw, the Boeing program manager for FARA.
This month the Army is slated to narrow the field from five competitors – Boeing, Sikorsky, Bell, Karem Aircraft, and AVX/L3Harris – to two. Those two are to participate in a fly-off, likely in 2022 or 2023, and the Army hopes to field the first FARA aircraft in 2028.
Boeing “has a long successful history of developing, integrating and fielding avionics solutions across the spectrum of aircraft types and missions,” Openshaw wrote in a March 5 email to Avionics International when asked what avionics lessons learned from the RAH-66 Comanche program Boeing applied to its FARA design. “Our approach continually evolves and is refined to meet current demands like those of the FARA program. The Boeing FARA avionics approach is focused on full implementation of the Army’s MOSA strategy.”
MOSA arose out of the open systems architecture for the Lockheed Martin UH-60V Black Hawk helicopter and is to be adopted across all platforms, which will have common electrical, signal and mechanical interfaces that are to facilitate systems integration.
Last October, Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Todd, the Army program executive officer (PEO) for aviation, said that the Army is looking to industry to support the rapid increase in on-board systems requirements, including Aircraft Survivability Equipment and communications. In January, Patrick Mason, who had been Todd’s deputy, became the new PEO for aviation.
While the Army has relied heavily on the Improved Data Modem, FARA and other Future Vertical Lift programs will require more processing power, more storage capacity and a better transport layer on aircraft, and Todd said that such needs will require an Aviation Mission Common Server [AMCS].
While the shape of the Boeing FARA design released on March 3, like the competing Bell 360 Invictus, may resemble Comanche, Openshaw said that the RAH-66 did not have a hand in the shape of Boeing’s FARA blueprint.
“Boeing FARA is not based on Comanche designs,” Openshaw wrote in his email. “The shape of the aircraft and the configuration of the rotors are the result of thorough analysis of current Army requirements and comprehensive design trades to optimize for the FARA specific mission.”
Boeing’s FARA prototype features a six-bladed main rotor/rear propulsor, single engine, tandem seating design and a “state-of-the-art cockpit with a reconfigurable large area display and autonomous capabilities,” according to Boeing.
Advanced virtual modeling helped Boeing create a FARA Pilot Vehicle Interface (PVI) that minimizes crew workload and provides cognitive decision aiding to enable supervised autonomy, and the company has demonstrated the ability to supervise advanced teaming with unmanned air systems and surrogate ALEs [air-launched effects] from the FARA PVI, according to Boeing.
Unlike the Bell 360 Invictus, the Boeing FARA lacks a fenestron and a wing.
The traditional Boeing tail rotor “draws on mature design elements for performance, strength and combat readiness needed for the Army’s mission,” according to Openshaw. “Our conventional four-bladed system provides anti-torque and outstanding low-speed maneuverability.”
“Our goal is to drive complexity out the Boeing FARA design,” Openshaw wrote in his email to Avionics. “The wing adds to complexity, vehicle weight, drag and cost. The more you add to the aircraft, the more complex it becomes which leads to additional maintenance and cost. We validated our wingless design through company-funded powered wind tunnel testing, with compounding aircraft, where we learned that the complex drag interactions between the wing and rotor were much higher than anticipated and the lift produced by the wing was offset by the weight of the wing itself, thus negating much of its benefit. These conclusive facts and data informed our design.”
Up until March 3, unlike the other companies competing for FARA, Boeing had been mum on its FARA design, as company officials said that they did not want to give any advantage to rival firms.
The Army describes FARA as a “knife fighter” helicopter that will fill the gap left by retiring the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. The service said that FARA “will be capable of achieving and sustaining overmatch against potential competitors and enduring asymmetric threats by closing or mitigating gaps in Army aviation attack and reconnaissance.”
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