For aircraft engine researchers, auto industry brings inspiration
28 July 2014, 1:15 p.m. EDT
by Ben Iannotta, Aerospace America editor-in-chief
The session, “Perspectives on the Future of Propulsion and Energy – The Art of the Possible,” was moderated by James Free, director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
Dramatically improving the efficiency of power and propulsion systems aboard aircraft is going to require openness to tapping developments in other disciplines.
That was one of the themes struck by members of the opening panel of AIAA’s Propulsion and Energy forum in Cleveland. The session, “Perspectives on the Future of Propulsion and Energy – The Art of the Possible,” was moderated by James Free, director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
“We are watching closely what’s going on with the automobile industry,” said Eric Bachelet, executive vice president for research and engineering at Safran of Paris. He said a “cross disciplinary approach” is needed. He lauded the auto industry for pushing forward with electric cars, even though 15 years ago “no one believed” they were feasible.
Looking out to the year 2064, Bachelet said: “We believe that gas turbine is not dead. It’s very likely to be complemented with fuel cell.” He said propulsion and airframe integration is likely to be “highly optimized.”
Insertion of new technologies in “vintage aircraft fleets will be a challenge,” he added.
Innovation will be fueled in the coming years by the public: “The demand for mobility will continue to grow,” Bachelet said.
Ric Parker, director of research and technology at Rolls-Royce, also brought up the auto industry, comparing the hybrid technologies in the company’s Distributed Electrical Aerospace Propulsion or DEAP project to those in a Toyota Prius. He said more work will be required for aircraft applications: “None of that technology is light enough today to get in the air,” he said.
During the question and answer session, an audience member noted that none of the speakers had portrayed a future filled with supersonic transports. Parker ventured an explanation.
“It’s taken a bit of a back seat for two reasons. One is it’s never going to be as good for the planet in terms of CO2 and everything else…as conventional flight. So there’s a sort of guilt factor that’s come in,” he said. But he noted that there’s been progress toward reducing the noise of supersonic aircraft. “From there, we may get back to supersonic transport,” Parker added.