Farnborough Air Show

UTAS Engineering Brains-Trust Tackles Problems For OEMs

 - July 5, 2016, 4:00 AM
The UTC Aerospace Systems advanced icing wind tunnel in Burnsville, Minnesota, is capable of simulating airspeeds up to Mach 0.9, air temperature down to -76 deg F and altitudes up to 47,000 feet. The extreme testing environment enables UTC to develop its sensor product portfolio for improved performance in the most demanding environmental conditions. 

Four years on from the merger that brought Goodrich and Hamilton Sundstrand together to form UTC Aerospace Systems (UTAS), the combined group has quietly established itself as the industry’s largest and most diverse systems specialist. With annual revenues of around $14.3 billion, UTAS is about twice as large as any of its rivals and at a pre-Farnborough show press briefing, its president David Gitlin predicted that it will sustain an average annual compound growth rate of around 6 percent, due mainly to the fact that on new aircraft programs such as the Bombardier C Series and the new Boeing Max and Airbus Neo narrowbodies, it has around twice the equipment content as on the aircraft these are replacing.

For today’s complex aircraft programs, UTAS is firmly of the conviction that bigger is better when it comes to being able to deliver strong engineering resources. “The big OEMs are looking for partners with the capability to step up and deal with complex programs and be able to reach for whatever technology they need,” said engineering v-p Geoff Hunt.

A big driver of the need for superior engineering brainpower is that the innovations setting new aircraft apart from their predecessors have a habit of creating new challenges. A classic example is the new PurePower PW1000 family of geared turbofan engines developed by UTAS’s UTC sibling Pratt & Whitney. With a bypass ratio of 12:1 (compared with 5:1 for previous generations of engines), these have a much larger fan diameter (81 inches versus 63 inches on the IAE V2500 engine). “You can’t just scale up the nacelle proportionately because this would result in an unacceptable penalty in terms of drag and weight,” explained Hunt. “A second problem is that since we want to run engines hotter, we need to find a way to manage and dispose of this heat, requiring more efficient heat exchangers. We need to make sure that the benefits of the new engines aren’t offset by issues like this.”

The PW1100G engine for the A320neo is installed much closer to the wing than its V2500 predecessor. So when UTAS developed its nacelle, the company had to take a new look at how and where to install key systems such as the Fadec to avoid a drag penalty. This was partly achieved by combining functions such as the fuel-pump, metering and control systems into one package that fits under the cowl.

UTAS also introduced elements such as robot-drilled perforations in the nacelle skins and honeycomb structures to improve the acoustics, greater use of single-panel complex shapes and the use of titanium in critical areas such as bypass ducts so that high temperatures would not be a limiting factor. It also managed to reduce the size of the advanced integrated drive generators (managing variable speed input and constant speed electrical output) with some innovative mechanical engineering. Further innovation came from using additive manufacturing to make the heat-exchanger core for more efficient thermal management of the engine systems.

New aircraft programs, such as the Boeing 787, Airbus A350, Embraer 190 E2, C Series and the Lockheed Martin F-35, incorporate pioneering work that UTAS has done in advancing the trend for more electric aircraft. Tim White, president of the company’s electric systems division, explained that pneumatic and hydraulic power enabled engineers to more efficiently manage power loads, delivering more power for less fuel burn and environmental impact. The “more-electric” trend also has resulted in reduced assembly time by putting power distribution closer to the systems they support so that, for example, on the 787 about 20 miles of cabling was eliminated.

Having invested approximately $3 billion in more-electric aircraft research and development over the past decade, UTAS is now funding further work in the following areas: aircraft architecture optimization; low spool power extraction; mega-watt generators; increased power density; smart solid state distribution systems eliminating electro-mechanical relays with devices with embedded intelligence to collect data; advanced emergency power system; and more-electric flight and environmental controls. The company, which has no fewer than 15 laboratories working on these issues, believes that further advances will contribute to a 20 percent improvement in fuel consumption, an 85 percent reduction in noise, 50 percent cut in carbon emissions and a 20 percent reduction in per hour operating costs.

In UTAS’s sensors and integrated systems division much of the focus is on developing smarter products through miniaturization and increased functionality. It also is investing in offering greater lightweight wireless connectivity and more intuitive software.

As part of the drive toward more intelligent aircraft, UTAS is developing smarter sensors to improve situational awareness. It was the first company to certify an integrated air data system with half the required number of sensors, by combining multiple functions into one sensor and combining it with a computer that feeds air data directly to the aircraft’s avionics system.

Among the many UTAS development facilities is an icing wind tunnel in Minnesota. This can simulate an array of different flight conditions, including dry air, rain, ice and mixed-phase flows. The company is working on a new laser-based ice detection system.

Gitlin confirmed that UTAS could be back in the market for further bolt-on acquisitions. In particular, it may be looking to expand its portfolio in the area of avionics to complement its existing work with flight control systems.