Aerospace design company Aurora Flight Sciences, a subsidiary of The Boeing Company, recently entered a contract with DARPA to further advance the applications of active flow control methods as the primary means of aircraft design and flight path control, and to demonstrate the ability of this approach to maintain stability and control in flight.
Active flow control actuators, or effectors, as they are called, form the flow of air around aircraft’s surfaces which allow for controllability without moving parts, leading to increased efficiency and better integration. DARPA, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that’s based in Arlington, Va., announced a contract worth $7.1 million last Friday in partnership with AFS to work on “Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors”. The project is nicknamed CRANE.
These novel flow control methods that eliminate the classical control surfaces normally found on aircraft such as elevators, ailerons, rudders, and secondary devices such as spoilers and trim tabs allow for a new realm of possibility for military and civilian aircraft. While the likely direct application of these effectors will be for classified defense projects, other secondary use cases could include eVTOL aircraft and aerial mobility technologies. Some existing eVTOL designs have already adopted this methodology and use modulation of power levels between electric ducted fan motors to control flight path. The CRANES project could take this design approach a step further, and create the pathway for dynamic surfaces that can modulate shape to redirect flow and result in a completely passive design.
Aurora Flight Sciences has been working on design and development of an eVTOL prototype for longer than most newer eVTOL outfits, and was acquired in 2017 by Boeing. Since the acquisition, the company debuted the first flight of the AFS/Boeing Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) and has continued with their flight test campaign. While effectors will likely serve a larger benefit for military R&D projects, they could be applied in simplistic forms to aerial mobility designs sooner than expected. The contract is set to complete in the summer of 2021.
Why it’s important: A variety of emergent aerospace technologies are being actively researched through government contracts, and while they may not yet be ready for direct application to aerial mobility or eVTOL designs, their potential benefits could be realized 5-10 years in the future as wide spread commercial application of on-demand mobility services becomes more commonplace. The unique configuration of many eVTOL aircraft would serve to benefit from effectors, as ducted fans and propulsory could potentially serve as the only “control surface” of the aircraft, reducing maintenance costs and increasing efficiency.
Source // DARPA, Aurora Flight Sciences