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February 16, 2017

To build an aircraft that meets the desired performance and certification requirements, airframe manufacturers and aircraft system OEMs juggle several incongruous parameters. On the one hand, they must ensure high integrity and availability of the systems, while reducing the weight, volume, and power consumption. And on the other, they must optimize costs and ensure performance. These competing drivers often make it difficult to achieve the optimum balance between aircraft performance requirements and system affordability. To overcome this challenge, the aircraft industry is moving toward the More Electric Aircraft (MEA).

Electric system configurations in More Electric Aircraft improve aircraft performance, enhance safety, and reduce weight, fuel usage, and noise. The MEA market is expected to grow from $7.68 billion in 2016 to $10.94 billion by 2021, representing a CAGR of 7.33%. The industry is therefore faced with the need for innovative design approaches, as well as advanced system simulation and certification techniques for the new electrical intensive MEA systems.

Challenges along the path to More Electric Aircraft

To achieve the MEA system configuration, integration of power electronics is very important. Validation of such a system requires large-scale simulations involving several components, and the analysis of combined system performance using different types of techniques. Also, MEA system configurations must handle the increased power requirements to function across the aircraft operating envelope.

The possibility of the power electronics in the controller malfunctioning in different operating environments is another challenge. The certification of such an integrated system is quite complex, which means airframe companies and system OEMs require a great level of expertise to fulfill the requirements. So, what is the solution?

Overcoming the certification challenges

Airframe manufacturers and aircraft system OEMs need to adopt methods and techniques to ensure the optimum performance of power electronics across the aircraft envelope. For instance, by using simulation techniques to validate system requirements, issues can be identified and resolved in the early stages of the design and development cycle. Doing so can help reduce the complexity involved in the certification of MEA system architectures.

More Electric Aircraft also demands higher levels of reliability and integration of power electronics. To meet these stringent requirements, you will need the support of MEA intelligent power solutions that include aerospace power core module (PCM) with integrated field programmable gate array (FPGA) and the hybrid power drive (HPD). The PCM controls the electrical motors used in applications such as primary flight control actuation, landing gear systems, and other systems. The device interfaces seamlessly with both aircraft power supplies and flight controllers, providing vital sensor feedback for health monitoring.

Airframe manufacturers and system OEMs will also need a high level of maturity in system-level engineering including system modeling and advanced electrical, thermal, and system analyses, as well as testing and certification. These capabilities might sometimes not be available within an organization. Tapping into externally available expertise in such cases can help you develop optimized solutions for aerospace applications.

More Electric Aircraft is the backbone of tomorrows aircraft

What does the aircraft of the future look like? The aircraft of tomorrow will be much safer, efficient, green, and a lot less noisy thanks to migration to MEA system configurations, and eventually, to an all-electric configuration aircraft, which is likely to become a reality soon. The aircraft industry will continue to invest in developing MEA technologies as they find application across multiple platforms, including Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and commercial and military aircraft. This essentially means that the aircraft of tomorrow will utilize more power generated to replace hydraulic system by electromechanical or electro-hydrostatic actuation and pneumatic system by e-ECS and e-de-ice/e-anti-ice.

As the industry is poised to witness increasing investments in power electronics and intelligent power systems, MEA will act as the lynchpin of futuristic aircraft system design and operation.

Viswanath Hebbale is an Aerospace Domain Consultant with the Engineering and Industrial Services business unit at Tata Consultancy Services. He has over 30 years of experience, and has worked with the Indian Space Research Organization, Aeronautical Development Agency, and Cessna Aircraft Company in the areas of cryogenic rocket propulsion, aircraft engine airframe integration, aircraft system design, systems engineering and development, and so on. Hebbales interest areas include propulsion, systems design, engineering, and certification. He has a Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Visvesvaraya College of Engineering, India.


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