Paris Air Show

Smiths links its products through core technology

 - December 14, 2006, 8:20 AM

The landing gear extension and retraction system for the Airbus A380 and the Boeing KC-767A tanker mission system are among Smiths Aerospace’s most visible contributions to this year’s Paris Air Show, but they are just the tip of a highly diversified iceberg, according to the group’s president, Dr. John Ferrie.

Actuation is a core technology for the company, Ferrie said: “It combines three of our major competencies, in digital computing, electrical power devices and mechanical systems. Today’s aircraft use all three in differing proportions depending on the application.”

The Safran group’s Aircelle has picked Smiths to supply the thrust reverser actuation system for the SaM-146 engine on the new Russian Regional Jet (RRJ), a deal that could be worth more than $35 million over the life of the program. Smiths is also supplying the system for several other types, including the Embraer 190: on that program the company recently received Federal Aviation Administration approval for certification reports on the system from General Electric Aircraft Engines, supplier of the airplane’s CF34-10E engine.

Potentially worth another $25 million is the contract from Lockheed Martin to supply the horizontal tail centering actuator used in the flight control actuation system of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The actuator mode is controlled by the aircraft’s vehicle management computer, which transmits commands via the Smiths-supplied remote input/output units.

All told, Smiths’ contributions to the F-35 are valued at about $10 billion. Last month, the company announced its selection by Lockheed Martin to participate in testing the program’s approach to performance-based logistics–a management approach that assigns specific roles and responsibilities as necessary to ensure there is a clear allocation of accountability for total system performance.

In the UAV field, Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems has selected Smiths Aerospace to supply electromechanical actuators for its unmanned air vehicle programs, including the vertical-takeoff Fire Scout, high-altitude, long-endurance Global Hawk and BQM-74F target drone. The potential value of the work is put at $20 million, with a long-term multiplatform value of nearly $50 million.

Smiths has also been selected to supply triple redundant engine interface units and engine throttle actuators for the Northrop Grumman X-47B joint unmanned combat air system. The development and production phases could be worth nearly $15 million if the program moves from demonstration to production.

In the same way that individual widget-type components and boxes are giving way to integrated systems, Ferrie said, the digital computing aspect of aircraft is moving toward modular avionics using shared resources.

“Smiths is supplying the first fully open architecture for the Boeing 787,” he said. “There are systems on other aircraft that are open to a greater or lesser degree, but I believe we are leading the field.” The combination of electrical, mechanical and digital expertise, along with the support of the airframe primes, has enabled Smiths to move from supplying components worth a few thousand dollars to systems worth hundreds of thousands, he said.

“There were other companies with a similar background but we have succeeded in competing and winning programs and they are either still supplying components or not supplying anything,” he commented. “We anticipated the change in emphasis four or five years ago and systematically developed a business strategy to be a Tier 1 supplier.”

The aircraft primes are all moving at different speeds, he added, but the 787 program is setting the pace, he added: “It’s the latest clean-sheet-of-paper design and probably the most advanced civil airplane in terms of architecture.” In the military field, similarly, the manufacturers of unmanned combat air vehicles are buying systems where the JSF followed the more traditional approach of buying individual widgets.