Honeywell moves to electronic systems

 - December 12, 2006, 12:16 PM

In an effort to save weight and improve reliability, Honeywell has asked its engineers to develop systems that will replace traditional aircraft hydraulic and bleed-air systems with all-electric architecture. The U.S. group plans to apply the technology in a wide range of aircraft components, from environmental control systems to electromechanical thrust reversers, all of which rely on heavier and more maintenance-intensive systems to perform their duties.

According to Russ Turner, president of Honeywell’s engines, systems and services division, the so-called more electric architecture being applied across a broad spectrum of product lines will increase the performance and reliability of aircraft systems by using electric motors and actuators to perform functions now delegated to pneumatic and bleed-air systems. Benefits of more electric architecture include fewer moving parts, lighter components and simpler designs, Turner said, a transition that will lead to reduced costs for maintenance and systems acquisition.

Perhaps the most noteworthy example of the trend at Honeywell is the thrust reverser system the company has designed for the Airbus A380, which the U.S. component manufacturer promotes as being the world’s first electric thrust reverser actuation system. Besides providing more precise control, the electric thrust reversers should prove far more reliable than traditional hydraulic-based systems, Turner said, adding that Honeywell has tested the concept exhaustively.

“In the case of the A380, what more electric architecture does is eliminate the need for hydraulics to power the thrust reversers,” Turner said. “That’s a major change.” The benefit for A380 operators, he added, will be lower cost of ownership due to the claimed improved reliability of the electric systems.

Honeywell also designed an electric-powered pneumatic air valve for the Boeing 787 and electric cabin pressure control systems for the Raytheon Hawker Horizon and Dassault Falcon 7X business jets. These systems integrate easily with avionics, combining monitoring and control functions for more efficient operations and reduced costs over the long term, Turner said. The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter also employs the concept in the form of Honeywell’s power thermal management system, which combines the functions of auxiliary power, environmental controls and emergency power.

Honeywell plans to extend the more electric architecture concept to other aircraft components as well. Turner said the traditional aircraft turbine engine, which produces not only thrust but pneumatic, hydraulic and electric power, will use more electric technology to produce thrust and electric power. Smaller electric engines will generate the power needed for the pneumatic, hydraulic and other mechanical systems. More electric technology introduces new requirements for electric engine starting, high power inverters and alternate air conditioning systems. Honeywell is investing in each of the technologies necessary to meet the new requirements, Turner said.

Engineering initiatives now under way center on more effective designs that do not rely so completely on engine bleed air. As the technology matures, Turner said there will be opportunities to apply more electric systems to smaller components and, at some point in the future, to design airplanes that are “all electric,” in that they will use no engine bleed air at all. While the transition to such aircraft will take time, Turner said Honeywell anticipates that the advantages of all-electric systems will hasten the technology’s advancement and eventually lead to its widespread use on a variety of aircraft.