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Diamond Aircraft’s Austria headquarters is well along with a third-generation hybrid-drive electric aircraft design that it hopes will serve as a certification template for future electric aircraft. The new airplane is based on a DA40 composite airframe, but rather than a geared conventional prop driven by a diesel engine, the aircraft will have a single Austro AE300 diesel driving a generator to power a pair of small, high-output electric motors mounted on a canard. Diamond CEO Christian Dries told AVweb that the company is partnering for a third time with Siemens AG, the large German electrical conglomerate, to produce a workable hybrid drive.

It’s the third such project Diamond has undertaken with both Siemens and EADs. In 2011, the company developed its first hybrid-drive concept and in 2013, it flew a proof-of-concept hybrid drive in an HK36 motorglider that it dubbed the E-Star. That aircraft, which accumulated about 20 test hours, also had a Siemens motor and generator, but a rotary powerplant rather than the diesel planned for the second project. “This airplane is based on serial production technology. Most likely this airplane will not come on the market, but this is a so-called certifiable program. That means in this airplane, we help the authorities set the standards for electric airplanes,” Dries said.

He said Siemens is providing two electric motors that each weigh less than 30 pounds but deliver 85 kw or 114 hp. The aircraft will use some 200 kg (440 pounds) of lithium ion batteries where the backseat would normally be, so it will be limited to two occupants. Dries says at typical cruise speeds of 110 to 120 knots, the airplane would have 10 hours of endurance, burning 6 to 7 liters (1.8 gallons) per hour. “Our first assumption, at the same speed, we have approximately 30 percent more efficiency; 30 percent less fuel at the same speed,” Dries said of the hybrid design.

“The main problem is always the batteries and not just the batteries by themselves, but also how to adjust the powerflow. If you have 200 lithium ion batteries, then a part of it is overheated or doesn’t work. You have to reduce the power from this part and still continue with the rest,” Dries said, adding that battery management and power control was the most challenging part of its first hybrid-drive project.

Dries said the time frame for the project depends on EASA, but Diamond is hoping for a completed test program within two to three years. Dries see wide civil application. “This technology will allow us to develop airplanes that are slightly different from everything we know now. For example, tilt rotor airplanes that will have the possibility of vertical takeoff, but can also fly at very high speed,” Dries explained.

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Two of Ireland's busiest airports, Cork and Shannon, will soon get remote control towers operated from a third airport in Dublin in what appears to be the first operational full-scale test of remote tower technology. The Swedish aerospace and industrial conglomerate Saab is providing the equipment and overseeing the test program. According to Saab, the remote sensor suites at Cork and Shannon will be operated from a central location at Dublin, first in parallel with manned towers and later as stand-alone remote operations, at least during some times of the day. The three airports, although small by international standards, account for more than 20 million passenger enplanements a year.

SAAB said the system consists of an array of high-definition cameras with pan-tilt-zoom capability as well as meteorological sensors, microphones, signal light guns and other devices that all can be operated remotely from the Dublin tower center. The camera array is installed on a physical tower, along with other sensors, and a photo provided by Saab depicts controllers seeing a panoramic view of the airport through more than a dozen large monitors providing what appears to be a virtual control tower window view. Saab claims the remote tower gives controllers the same capabilities to separate traffic and provide services as a normal visual tower would. The system includes an electronic flight strip system, which replaces the traditional paper strips controllers use to summarize data on the aircraft they're working. 

Saab told AVweb that the remote system is capable of runway separation and sequencing if equipped with the right sensors, but this isn't part of the contract it sold to the Irish Aviation Authority. As part of the European Union's so-called SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) project, the system is supposed to test the concept of a single site or controller overseeing many airports. IAA believes the potential for such technology is greatest at smaller regional airports where the volume of traffic is insufficient to justify the cost of a manned tower.

image: Wikimedia

The loss of an Airbus A400M and four crew on a test flight on May 9 was caused by incorrectly installed software, an Airbus official told a German newspaper last week. "The black boxes attest … that there are no structural defects, but we have a serious quality problem in the final assembly," Marwan Lahoud, Airbus' chief strategy officer, told Handelsblatt. No problems were found with the software itself, which controls the airplane's four turboprop engines. In a statement to AFP, Airbus said the investigation is still continuing and "it is too early to draw any conclusions … like all accidents, it will certainly be a combination of issues and not one single cause." The company also said the A400M aircraft in service have already been checked and are "100 percent protected from this failure."

The A400M that crashed in Seville, Spain, about 15 minutes after takeoff, was undergoing its first test flight, with six Airbus employees on board. The airplane hit an electrical tower and crashed into a field during an emergency landing attempt. The two people who survived were seriously injured. According to Der Spiegel, one of the survivors told investigators the airplane suffered multiple engine failures. The turboprop, which has been in service since 2013, was produced as part of Europe’s biggest defense project, costing $22 billion. The airplane was designed to be a military airlifter to replace the C-130 Hercules and similar aircraft. Twelve of the airplanes have been delivered to the air forces in Germany, Malaysia, Turkey and the UK; they have been grounded until the accident investigation is complete.

Nearly 200 members of the Air Line Pilots Association are volunteering in Washington, D.C., this week, to help lobby Congress to pass a new FAA funding bill that prioritizes safety. The ALPA campaign, called "This is Your Captain Speaking," features print and digital ads, radio spots, videos and a social-media effort. The campaign will target Capitol Hill for the next two months. This week, pilots are meeting with members of Congress and their staff. "Some [legislators] are calling for rolling back fatigue rules and safety standards for pilot training and qualification," said ALPA President Tim Canoll. "Airline pilots want to see a clean, on‐time FAA reauthorization bill this year that puts safety first."

Specifically, ALPA is urging Congress to pass a bill that provides stable, reliable funding for the FAA; upholds current requirements for pilot training and certification; ensures that the integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System does not compromise safety; requires secondary cockpit barriers on passenger aircraft; and regulates the transport of lithium batteries by air as dangerous goods, to mitigate the risk of fire aboard aircraft. ALPA also is lobbying Congress to review the operations of three Middle East airlines that ALPA says receive billions of dollars worth of subsidies from their governments and compete unfairly with U.S. operators.

The Solar Impulse crew has cut short their attempt to fly from China to Hawaii on solar power, with a safe landing in Nagoya, Japan, at almost midnight local time Monday. Options for navigating a weather front along the route deteriorated, and the crew decided to land and wait for another opportunity. Despite the delay, the crew was encouraged by the airplane's performance during the 40-hour flight, its longest yet. "The plane performed well with plenty of energy reserve," said project leader Bertrand Piccard. "That was my dream, and the dream of all the engineers, and it happened last night. The plane could make it through the night with no fuel, get the sunshine in the morning, and continue. So we are happy about that. Now we have airplanes that can fly with no fuel forever." Pilot Andre Borschberg also managed the long solo flight with no problems.

The landing at Nagoya means the crew will have fewer options for planning the next attempt across the Pacific. The launch from Nanjing provided the choice of either a northerly or southerly route. From Nagoya, the options now are limited to the northern route. Now that the aircraft has safely landed, the weather team plans to get some rest, and then start to strategize for the next launch window. Ground crews converged at Nagoya to provide landing support -- a rider on an electric bicycle met the aircraft on the runway to grab the wingtip and prevent it dragging -- and a special portable hangar to protect the aircraft will be erected at the airfield.

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Aircraft of the future could be more fuel-efficient, says NASA, thanks to new non-stick coatings they recently tested that shed insect residue. By staying cleaner and bug-free, the coated wings are more aerodynamic. NASA tested five coatings recently during a two-week project in Shreveport, Louisiana, flying the Boeing 757 ecoDemonstrator. "One of the five coating/surface combinations showed especially promising results," said Fay Collier, project manager for the environmentally responsible aviation project. "Early data indicated one coating had about a 40-percent reduction in bug counts and residue compared to a control surface mounted next to it."

Engineers at Langley developed more than 200 coating formulations and tested them in a small wind tunnel, then tested the best of those in flight on the wing of a NASA jet. They selected the best non-stick coatings from those tests to fly on the ecoDemonstrator. Shreveport was chosen for the tests because of its significant bug population. Since most insects fly close to the ground, the tests were done during 15 flights that each included several takeoffs and landings. With the exception of Boeing proprietary technology, NASA knowledge gained through ecoDemonstrator research is made available to the public.

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The next Apple mobile operating system update is expected to fix a glitch that prevents iPads from communicating with some GPS accessories used for some aviation apps. As we reported in April, the last update, iOS 8.3, stopped early model GPS devices from supplying position information to certain aviation apps. The next release, iOS 8.4, is expected to resolve the issue but it's not clear when the update will be available. Mobile device websites say the third beta version of the platform was only recently released and the package isn't expected to go public until sometime this summer.

In the meantime, those using ForeFlight with Wi-Fi-only iPads who updated to 8.3 are limited to using only the Stratus GPS source, which was not affected by the update. Those with cellular data-enabled iPads can use the internal GPS to power the apps. "This issue has frustrated many pilots who own Wi-Fi only iPads or GPS accessories and we are glad relief is on the way," said ForeFlight CEO Tyson Weihs. Hilton Software President Hilton Goldstein said his company's WingX Pro7 works on the affected devices running i0S 8.3.

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If it sometimes seems that the entire aerospace industry is given over to developing ways to plant cameras in the sky to spy on people and things, it’s probably because the entire aerospace industry is given over to developing ways to plant cameras in the sky to spy on people and things. Although the actual number of aircraft is relatively small, the number of developmental projects related to surveillance is, as far as I can tell, quite broad. I’m constantly running into people working in this field and my reaction is always the same: “You have a UAS project?”

The latest I encountered by happenstance was in tiny Moriarty, New Mexico, a dust-blown little airport east of Albuquerque. When I was out there in early April shooting the SubSonex jet, we drove by a huge, obviously new hangar complex. When I inquired about it, my host, Bob Carlton, said, “Oh, that’s Google’s.” What the hell is Google doing out here in a windowless hangar in the middle of the desert? Building high-altitude, long-duration solar-powered drones not to loft cameras (or so we’re told) but to provide internet service to remote parts of the world. These are being called “atmospheric satellites.”

The airport rumor had it that the Google project was about to fly and that proved correct. It did fly. And as our news story reported, it also crashed on May 1, although the details are sketchy. This is a big aircraft, by the way, with a wingspan of more than 100 feet, with the wing’s surface area apparently covered with high-efficiency solar cells, probably of the sort made by Alta Devices.

The intent is to keep these things on station for years at a time, but the technology may itself be years from delivering on that. As with everything else related to electric flight, the lack of high-energy density, lightweight batteries continues to limit endurance.

So as attractive as electric propulsion is, designers are still leaning heavily on hydrocarbon engines to get cameras high and keep them up there for as long as possible. The Holy Grail continues to be persistent presence; the camera as an unblinking eye that’s always there peering down on everything and everyone 24/7/365. The industry’s not quite there yet, but it’s not for lack of trying.

For a brief time and maybe still, this has resulted in resurgence of piston engine development. Going back some 15 years, when the then Thielert Aircraft Engines was developing what became the Centurion line of four-cylinder diesels, General Atomics picked that engine to power the YMQ-1C Warrior, a variant of the Predator drone. Prior to that, all the way back to the mid-1990s when few of us knew this technology existed, General Atomics was using Rotax 912 and 914 engines.

To some in the military, reverting back to anachronistic pistons from jets must have been a little hard to swallow. But there was really no choice if the services wanted long-duration, medium-size drones. Jet engines were and remain too inefficient to carry the fuel, the payload and keep it at altitude for long duration. If these guys are asked how much duration these drones should have, the answer is more likely to be weeks and months than hours and minutes. Diesels fit the design brief, but they’re heavy and altitude-limited.

I’m sure the services never gave up on small turbine-powered drones because for some missions, it appears that the altitude/endurance tradeoff favors altitude. We ran this story last month describing an Air Force design contest to create a high-efficiency 100-hp turboshaft engine to operate at an SFC of 0.55 lbs/hp/hr. The lucky winner will get a $2 million prize. I wish the contestants luck on that one. Not only will it be a challenge to design and produce such an engine, doing it on $2 million sounds like trying to finance a new Airbus on a Visa card. In case the fuel efficiency isn’t challenge enough, the engine has to weigh no more than 50 pounds, since there’s a two-horsepower-per-pound requirement.

A BSFC of 0.55, by the way, is efficient only in relative terms. Typical turboshaft engines run in the mid 0.6s, although some of the larger ones do better than that. Four-cylinder diesels of the sort Thielert developed from automotive antecedents get down around 0.36, which explains why, despite their weight, they found favor for MALE-class drones. (Medium-altitude long-endurance.)

Turboshafts don’t scale down well, if efficiency is a goal. The Allison—now Rolls—250-C20S used in Cessna 185 and 206 conversions runs at about 0.65 BSFC, while the Garrett TPE331 engines used in the Mitsubishi MU-2, at twice the horsepower, operate at 0.55. Some do even better than that. The 2100-hp PW121 gets just below 0.5—almost to piston efficiency, but not quite.

Diesels have the same scale issues. The larger they are, generally, the more efficient. The most efficient diesel known is the giant Wartsila-Sulzer RTA96C meant for marine use. With a three-foot bore and an eight-foot stroke, it runs at 0.278 BSFC, which is more than 50 percent thermal efficiency. Eat your heart out, General Atomics.

Because it’s a contest, the Air Force isn’t exactly saying how such an efficient engine should be designed. But Lt. Col Aaron Tucker, deputy chief of the service’s turbine engines division at Wright-Patterson, thinks 3-D printing—additive manufacturing—may help. We’ll see.

Not to be left out, the Navy has its own efficient turboshaft project underway at the Naval Research Lab. But rather than a contest, the Navy is doing its own in-house development to serve as a technological base for contractors to produce such an engine. It may be a while before anyone does. The Navy declined a request to provide more details on the project, but it has been underway since 2004. It has also yielded at least one patent.

This is a small engine—four horsepower to start—intended for what’s obviously a UAV application. One of its design goals is to meet the defense department "single-fuel forward" requirement that allows any vehicle to burn any fuel. The patent indicates that the Navy is pursuing what’s called recuperative technology to improve thermal efficiency. Basically, that involves using engine exhaust to heat the compressor output air via a heat exchanger. The heat added to the combustion process reduces the amount of energy that has to come from the fuel and thus reduces fuel consumption, typically by as much as 20 percent. That’s the difference between 0.65 and 0.52 BSFC and it’s a considerable efficiency improvement, although still a far cry from piston efficiency.

Inevitably, there’s a tradeoff for the recuperative cycle and that’s weight and complexity. A plain Brayton cycle is elegant in its simplicity, which is why jet engines are so attractively reliable at the expense of high fuel burn. According to the patent, the Navy developmental work favors lightweight ceramics for the heat exchanger and other components. I can imagine that would be quite a tiny little—and expensive—jewel for a four-horsepower engine. That thought illuminates the economics of these engines, which are quite likely to be low volume and high priced, unless they find broad civil applications. And there are always spinoffs into civil aerospace. These projects rarely stay in their silos forever. Maybe as useful experience is gained, the recuperative cycle could prove practical for other turboshafts of all sizes, especially for a hybrid-drive electric aircraft.

As we all learned in history class, World War II rapidly accelerated aeronautical development, for both the good and the bad. We got more powerful piston engines and jets and more efficient airframes. We also got ever more effective ways to kill each other from, with and by airplane.

It’s fair to say the same thing about UAS technology; it’s pushing aeronautical science ever forward in propulsion, aerodynamics, avionics and structure. The creativity being applied to these challenges is inspiring. On the other hand, welcome to an age when you won’t be able to walk to your mailbox without a camera recording it. The potential for abuse of such surveillance technology may loom large as the next generation’s most pressing challenge, even ahead of terrorism. It worries me. But not so much that I’m not happy to see this intriguing research underway. To think otherwise would be to wear a permanent set of blinders. The Navy researcher overseeing the NRL project, Rita Manak, told me that part of what propels the lab is to try to nibble away at the edges of the unknown. “You don’t have to worry about the inevitable,” she said, “that never happens. The unexpected always does.”

As the world shrinks into little more than a subject for a lens, I’d say that’s a timely thought.

What Everybody Ought to Know About the CGR-30P from Electronics International

Although the venerable GE 4509 remains the most popular landing light, LED and HID technology are proving popular alternatives for many owners.  In this video, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli compares the technologies.

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