Aerostar (Hall 3 Stand B31) has become one of the first independent European MRO organizations to install Split Scimitar winglets on Boeing 737-800s. The work was carried out for Sweden's TUIFly Nordic at Aerostar's Bacau facility in Romania, which is also the location of its headquarters. The winglets were fitted to two 737 aircraft, one arriving in early May and having the work done during a maintenance check, while the other followed shortly afterwards for a maintenance check, wing strengthening and installation of winglets.
Each installation took six days and "had no impact on the maintenance check downtime," said Aerostar (see page XX). Ovidiu Buhai, director aviation MRO and upgrades for Aerostar, said, "We are very proud that Aerostar was chosen by an airline within [the] TUI Travel [group]...to install these revolutionary winglets.
TUI Travel is the European launch customer for the Split Scimitar winglets. It placed an order with Aviation Partners Boeing in July 2013 for the fuel- and emissions-saving winglet.
TUI Travel was also the first customer to fly Blended Winglets on its Boeing 737 Next Generation fleet. The Split Scimitar winglet was the culmination of a five-year design effort by Aviation Partners Boeing, which used the latest computational fluid dynamic technology to redefine the aerodynamics of the Blended Winglet into an all-new "Split Scimitar" winglet.
The new winglet uses the existing Blended Winglet structure but adds new strengthened spars, aerodynamic scimitar tips and a large ventral fin.
Aerostar has had considerable success building its civil MRO business having gained engineering expertise in defense work over several decades–most recently is its contract with the Mozambique air force to "bring back to life" eight MiG-21s, a contract that included training and support.
Ovidiu Buhai, director of aviation maintenance and upgrades, told AIN that Starbow of Ghana "came for a second aircraft this year and has another BAe 146 its wants a C-check on," while "FastJet intends to come with another aircraft in November.
"We are looking also to other operators in Africa, within the range circle–5,000 km or maybe 6,000 km," said Buhai. "FastJet came because of good price and positive feedback from other airlines," and he hinted at other customers from Africa already signed up and said it has its first [undisclosed] customer from the East coming later this year.
Almost all Royal Air Maroc's Boeing 737NGs come to Aerostar for heavy maintenance. "We'd like to have more customers like RAM," said Buhai, who described late-2013/early-2014 as "a very good season." He described Aerostar as a "center of excellence for 737 maintenance" though it has considerable experience with A320-family aircraft, too. It has carried out heavy checks on six and has contracted for another four, said Buhai. "So we aim to do another six this year," he said during AIN's visit last month. Operators in Turkey, such as Pegasus, are particularly in the company's sights for follow-on business.
Buhai's final comments were about a possible third hangar, if it develops a 737 freighter conversion program, or A320. "We'll need a separate place for this and we have space to put in another hangar," he said, admitting that the company is also "considering extending our capabilities to Embraer E-170 and E-190 [families]."
Remus Vlad, MRO/upgrades business development manager, listed some of the other work Aerostar had enjoyed, including heavy C-check on a 737-300F for Mena Aerospace Cargo (this aircraft was in the hangar), while a Starbow BAe 146-200 had just left the hangar when AIN visited–with another due in February 2015 if it does not get sold. Vlad said Aerostar carried out "54 heavy checks last year."
GE Aviation is preparing to begin flight tests of its new Leap-1C and Passport engines featuring nacelles developed for them by the group's Nexcelle joint venture with Safran subsidiary Aircelle. Last month, Nexcelle delivered the first full new-generation nacelles for both programs. They are due to fly soon on the engine maker's Boeing 787 testbed. The Leap-1C is to power Comac's C919 narrowbody airliner, while the Passport has been selected for Bombardier's Global 7000 and 8000 business jets.
According to Nexcelle president Michel Abella, the primary goal for the integrated approach to designing the nacelles is to lower operators's direct operating costs by contributing to improved performance of the engines and delivering improved reliability. For instance, overall installed weight has been reduced through using new pylon designs. He told AIN that significant improvements have been achieved by designing the nacelles under the concept of the integrated propulsion system (IPS) in closer engineering cooperation with those working on the rest of the powerplant, including the pylons and mounts.
Nexcelle's Panache thrust reverser for the Leap-1C IPS features the company's new O-Duct design, which replaces two D-shaped doors in a traditional reverser. The O-Duct design is more efficient due to the removal of the links that cut the reverser's flow path in two with the D-shaped doors.
In the Panache unit, the thrust-blocking doors are located around the full inner circumference of the composite O-Duct structure. They are deployed by new mechanisms attached to the forward frame and are fully contained inside the O-Duct structure when stowed, avoiding any interference with fan flow.
The Panache system is on display here at Farnborough this week on the Safran exhibit (Hall 4 Stand B12). It also features a new castellated ring interface between the thrust reverser and the engine, which are connected via the A2 flange. When the ring is rotated, the entire O-Duct moves on pylon-mounted tracks and sliders, opening up access to the reverser's inner fixed structure for maintenance. The IPS for the Passport engine has a similar design philosophy but it does not feature the Panache thrust reverser.
"One of the good things about the O-Duct is that it is all one piece, which reduces the number of seals inside it and also cuts the aerodynamic losses that you get with a normal thrust reverser," said Abella.
Under the joint venture, GE's Middle River Aircraft Systems subsidiary is responsible for the inlet and fan cowl for both the Leap-1C and the Passport. It also makes the engine mounts and inner fixed structures for the Leap engine. Aircelle has developed the thrust reversers for both turbofans, as well as the inner fixed structure for the Leap. The Leap IPS features an electrical thrust reverser actuation system, which is a new approach introduced by Aircelle for the A380.
With flight-testing about to get under way to enable the two new nacelles to enter service around 2017 and 2018, Nexcelle is putting plans in place for product support. The company is also getting ready for the anticipated production ramp up in support of the C919 and Global programs.
After Sir Richard Branson launches the first passenger flight of his Virgin Galactic space venture, possibly later this year, he's indicated that he will turn his attention to developing a supersonic commercial aircraft that can transit from New York to Tokyo (10,800 km; 5,800 nm) in "less than an hour." He envisions an orbital aircraft, which could reach speeds up to 30,000 kph (16,200 knots).
Branson is not the only billionaire entrepreneur who would like a means of getting to the other side of the world far more quickly. Texas tycoon Robert Bass continues to make substantial investments in support of Aerion's plans to bring a supersonic business jet to market.
Governments have provided research expertise and funding support in the hundreds of millions of dollars range as well through NASA and DARPA in the U.S., and the UK's more than $600 million budget for Reaction Engines' hypersonic dreams.
Then there is Spike Aerospace, whose 12- to 18-passenger, Mach 1.6 S-512 design is still on paper and not yet taking orders–but it created some buzz earlier this year when Spike announced a "windowless" fuselage. At $100 million or more per aircraft, the company expects to recoup its investment from sales of an estimated 400 to 500 supersonic planes in the next decade, according to Vic Kachoria, president of Spike Aerospace, based in Boston, Massachusetts.
Kachoria said due to the lack of windows, it now refers to the "digital cabin." "You're going to be able to see outside, but you're going to get a more enhanced view. The entire length of the fuselage can be one continuous panoramic image," he explained.
The "outside" that passengers see will not be a direct view. Rather, several small cameras mounted on the exterior of the aircraft will be able to relay images of the day or night sky, projecting them onto a cabin wall that is, in effect, one long, high-resolution display screen. If you prefer, or whoever has control of the display controls prefers, you can also project a Powerpoint presentation, an Excel spreadsheet, a videoconference, a movie–or nothing, if you'd rather sleep.
Kachoria, who describes himself as a "serial entrepreneur," said that despite the "Oh, my god, it doesn't have windows" reaction of some and concerns about claustrophobia, windowless aircraft will be the norm within 20 years. Replacing windows, spurs and supports with a streamlined fuselage is simply one element of increasing the speed envelope.
Spike is "at a very early stage; we have a lot of engineering and design work to do," Kachoria acknowledged. Spike is currently evaluating the preliminary design it announced last October, performing simulation analysis. "We probably have at least another year of heavy engineering work, but we're definitely moving forward. There's a demand for supersonic flight, and it's doable in the next five to eight years."
The most challenging part of the process, he thinks, will be securing FAA certification–in part because of new noise regulations. ICAO's new Annex 16, Chapter 14 noise standards are expected to be in effect for bizjet category aircraft by 2020, and the company is in discussions about potentially unique requirements for supersonic aircraft as well.
The new noise regulations are also uppermost in mind for Aerion, which announced in May a three-engine concept rather than its original twin-jet design. "The new noise regulations absolutely mandated a new engine," Aerion CEO Doug Nichols told AIN. "Noise drives the design; noise drives the engines. The noise regulations were the cause of moving beyond the [Pratt & Whitney] JT8D turbofan, which Aerion had been planning to use in its original two-engine configuration.
"With three engines, and each engine at two thirds of overall thrust," Nichols explained, "the jet velocity out of each engine is lower so the overall noise signature is lower."
The tri-jet design will also be a benefit for long routes over water or uninhabited land areas where unrestricted supersonic speeds are permitted. It also enables a larger cabin compartment, which appeals to some potential customers. But Nichols said the third engine does not fundamentally affect the aircraft's design. "We have not discarded all of the work we have done. We have built upon this work. A layman won't discern any difference at all.
"We are well along into the conceptual design phase," Nichols said. "We have spent an inordinate amount of time over the past decade working with NASA in phased approaches to testing our technology in terms of our design tools that allow engineers to know, based upon the wind geometry, when laminar flow can become turbulent, and then optimize the wing so we get the largest possible extent of laminar flow and minimize turbulent flow. And we have tested the robustness of our technology given state-of-the-art manufacturing capability."
Aerion, now 12 years into the project, has resumed searching for an engine manufacturer "in order to converge on the optimum engine propulsion system for the airplane." Once the new engine is selected, Nichols indicated that Aerion can focus on the aircraft's performance capability and then proceed into the detailed design phases. Aerion also has not given up looking for an aircraft-manufacturing partner to help it build what is now dubbed the AS2. "We're driving hard to put all the pieces in place to certify this airplane in late 2021," he said.
Spokesman Jeff Miller said Bass's decision to fund the aircraft development means Aerion "is not dependent on the OEM or other resources, and that's changing the nature of the discussion." He said the company hopes to assemble the consortium of key partners "perhaps by NBAA [the business aviation event in Orlando, Florida, in mid-October]."
Boom or Bust
Gulfstream Aerospace (Chalet J3) continues low-key efforts to research supersonic options, but according to spokesperson Steve Cass, they're interested only in an aircraft that can be used overland and receive U.S. Federal Aviation Administration authorization, that is, one that does not create a discernible sonic boom.
Robert Pearce, NASA's director for strategy, architecture and analysis in the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, told an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference in June, "If we can overcome the challenges of the boom, I think that will become a very important part of the aviation system."
Further downstream are the hypersonic concepts in the Mach 3+ range. Hypermach Europe Aeronautics announced its SonicStar airframe design in 2011, though it has been low on the radar recently. The company has reportedly conducted some wind-tunnel tests. Originating as a U.S. company focused on electromagnetic drag-reduction engine technology, SonicBlue Aerospace, Hypermach claims to be "supported by the UK government," though it has yet to receive any financial support from it.
Oxford-based firm Reaction Engines (run by Alan Bond, of Hotol fame) has secured initial funding of $100 million from the UK government for development of a lightweight engine called Sabre, intended to power Europe's proposed reusable Mach 5 Skylon spaceplane.
Skylon would operate like an airplane, taking off from and landing on standard runways. The Sabre engines would function like jet engines at low altitudes and slow speeds, but kick into rocket mode at high altitudes. The European Space Agency thinks Skylon could be flying as early as the 2020s.