RICHARD GARDNER looks at recent announcements that aim to help safeguard Britain’s long term status as a global player in aerospace. This is a full article published in Aerospace International: October 2012 [caption id="attachment_7445" align="alignnone" width="208" caption="Wind tunnel at QinetiQ - (QinetiQ)."][/caption] This year’s Farnborough International Air Show (FIAS) was attended by a record number of UK Ministers and officials, indicating that maybe, just maybe, Westminster was warming to the message that the aerospace sector is a vital national asset, that its hard-won international status is threatened as never before by new competitors and that it is important enough to be worth encouraging with actions, not just words, so that it can better exploit its huge potential for increased exports, high-skilled, high-value job creation in science and technology and greater national wealth-creation. On July 10, at the FIAS, Business Secretary Vince Cable MP announced that his department was working with industry to boost investment in aerospace research and technology, as part of a £200m injection since 2011 which included specific measures that would help provide: “a new vision for the future of the sector which will help UK aerospace firms win billions of pounds worth of new contracts over the next 15-20 years.” So what is actually being done now to improve things and what extra investment is heading in the sector’s direction?  

Aerodynamics gets boost

[caption id="attachment_7446" align="alignnone" width="333" caption="The UK's expertise in wind tunnels included tests of the Boeing 787. (QinetiQ)."][/caption] First signs of a re-think in policy terms reflecting more recognition in Whitehall of what industry leaders had been requesting, for some years, was the announcement in the March Budget statement from Chancellor George Osborne that the government would fund the creation of a world class ‘UK Centre for Aerodynamics’, with £60m to be allocated for this. Some cynics suggested that this was surely what the government once had, in the days of the Royal Aircraft Establishment and later DERA, which was indeed recognised as world class but which was closed down to save money. Responsibility for R&D re-settled almost entirely into the private sector though, within this environment, it became more sharply focused on specific work for specific projects which were contracted for and where there was a revenue stream involved. Pure ‘blue skies’ R&D activity found itself looking increasingly to investment from European sources and within academia and, within strict limits, within the aerospace sector. A return to support from central government for wider R&D work beyond fully-funded programmes is thus very welcome, even if the level of taxpayer investment is extremely modest and still way below that enjoyed by all the UK’s major global competitors. Questioned by the author on the subject of where the new aerodynamics centre might be located, Mr Cable underlined that it was not going to be a new facility as the name might imply but would be a ‘virtual centre’ linking existing test and modelling facilities into a coherent organisation, “and will obviously have an administrative centre located somewhere suitable”. He said it will be responsible for co-ordinating and supporting world-leading research and technology. “Through the identification and development of new technologies, it will pinpoint areas for increased investment to fund research which will ensure that the UK remains a competitive leader in the global aerospace market. In addition, the research will de-risk radical new concepts in wing design and help deliver sustainable aviation by supporting the development of new technologies and more environmentally friendly aircraft.” The initial £60m will be spread over two years, £10m of which will be capital investment to upgrade facilities, with £50m resource funding for delivering the research. At a time when government expenditure has been severely curtailed, this extra money is a positive step in the right direction, though to keep things in perspective it perhaps is worth noting that compared to UK Government R&D investment a decade ago, the total is today barely half that level.  

AGP — delivering on its promise?

The Business Secretary used the Farnborough Air Show as a platform to update the audience of industry representatives and media on progress after setting up the Aerospace Growth Partnership (AGP). He said that UK aerospace was a global success story, with great opportunities ahead but that we should grab a greater share of the expanding export market as, “there are many other countries hoping to have a slice of the pie.” He told his audience that this was why the government is doing all it can to make the UK an attractive environment for aerospace — ensuring that companies are more likely to invest in jobs and facilities in the country. He said: “Today saw the first details of how funding for the new virtual aerodynamics centre would be distributed, including around £12m capability building work to develop and establish the UK’s intellectual leadership in aerodynamics. This would be supported by £28•2m of government investment allocated to six innovative new projects in aerodynamics — five R&T projects and one project with a capital grant, with a further £20m to be contributed by industry. A new competition for collaborative aerodynamics research projects is to be launched through the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and up to £20m would be government funding, matched by up to £20m from business. The government and industry will also be investing £40m each in SILOET, a Rolls-Royce-led programme. This will accelerate the development and introduction of low carbon aircraft engine technology. It consists of seven projects looking at lightweight structures, high temperature materials and technology, lean burn systems, virtual engineering tools and advanced components. Each of the SILOET projects consortia is made up of Rolls-Royce and various combinations from ten of the leading UK universities. Mr Cable also announced that the TSB and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council were allocating £15m a joint government/industry award to 11 business-led R&D projects. The funding is to help develop technology to grow the sector and safeguard a competitive edge in the global market. Another £6m was to be used to fund 500 aeronautical engineers at Masters level over the next three years. This was the item announced by the Prime Minister and which received most media coverage.  

Research projects

[caption id="attachment_7447" align="alignnone" width="374" caption="The first Airbus A350WXB wing has been delivered to Toulouse. The Centre for Aerodynamics is expected to contribute to future wing development. (Airbus)"][/caption] The projects that have been allocated grants from the UK Centre for Aerodynamics are: The Advanced Integrated Wing Optimisation (AIWO) which is an Airbus-led project to investigate novel aerodynamic wing configurations and shapes for the next all-new Airbus aircraft. Main activity will be located in Bristol. Led by Airbus and Bombardier, the Structural Technology Maturity (STeM) project is to support new concepts in wing structure and manufacturing that enable expansion of the boundaries of aerodynamic performance and contribute to securing work in the UK for the next generation of aircraft. Main activity is to be located in the Isle of Wight and Northern Ireland. The Integrated Turboprop Propulsion Systems (ITPS) project is led by GE Aviation Systems (Dowty Propellers) and will investigate the aerodynamic and acoustic performance of innovative blade geometries with development of aerodynamic and acoustic design and analysis tools to advance recent concepts into practical solutions. Main activity will be at Gloucester. Another Airbus-led project is Experimental Aerodynamics (ExpAERO) and will generate a deeper understanding of the flows on transonic wings in a number of specific areas where there has been a shortage of detailed experimental data. It will be used to enhance Airbus wing design methods and main activity will be at Bedford and Bristol. Aircraft Research Association R&D (ARA R&D) is a programme, led by ARA, that will tackle fundamental aerodynamic aspects and capability enhancements so that ARA can compete more effectively on the international wind tunnel test market, through the maintenance of expertise in wind tunnel testing and associated support technologies. Amongst the topics to be investigated are hybrid laminair flow control technology, aircraft loads alleviation technology, powerplant integration, cavity aerodynamics and acoustics. Main activity will be at Bedford. Aircraft Research Association Capital Equipment (ARA CE) is the project which involves an upgrading of Bedford’s wind tunnel infrastructure. This includes the transonic wind tunnel main control system, the drive system and acoustic measurement system, an upgrade in the computing system capability and machinery for model manufacture. These cover their ability for testing and modelling as well as their ability to manufacture and test very high quality test models.  

Reaching for the sky?

The Reach for the Skies AGP initial report concluded that the UK can retain its position (claimed as the largest aerospace manufacturer in Europe, and No 2 in the world) if government and industry work together to address barriers to growth and if its customer base can be widened. It states that investment in the UK is more likely if it is believed that government is committed to keeping the country an attractive environment for aerospace activity. There is a warning, however, that insufficient access to finance represents a risk to industry. Mr Cable said that business and industry must work together to create a banking forum to close the gap between banks and aerospace businesses. The TSB competition for funding will see £20m invested in collaborative research and development that builds intellectual leadership to support the aims of the UK Centre of Aerodynamics. It will focus on strategic aerodynamic technological themes aiming to re-establish the UK as the leading nation in the field of aerodynamics. In its heyday, this is exactly just what the world-famous RAE at Farnborough, and its out-station at Bedford, achieved –— global aerodynamic leadership. This lead was needlessly discarded in the 1990s within a policy of running down the national in-house aerospace R&D establishments but the realisation now in government and industry that there is a continuing role for world-class aerodynamic R&D investment beyond what can be provided solely by the private sector and academia is a significant step and one to be applauded.  

Aerospace International Contents - October 2012

News Roundup - p 4 Filling the aviation skills gap - p 12 Why the aerospace sector struggling for talent? Letters - p 15 Pacifying rogue aircraft and London's airports Winds of change - p 16 A report on the UK's new £60m aerodynamics centre Waiting for the green light?- p 18 An update on alternative fuels for aviation China aims for the high ground - p 22 China's military ambitions in space The autonomous air system: far beyond the foreseeable future - p 26 Merging human and machine? The great haul of China - p 30 China's US general aviation spending spree The last word - p 34 Keith Hayward on military UAV pilots
This is a full article published in Aerospace International: September 2012. As a member, you receive two new Royal Aeronautical Society publications each month - find out more about membership.

Bill Read
19 October 2012