New means of generating thrust will radically change aircraft and spacecraft design. Designs and technologies for the future of air and space travel take shape at INNOVATION WORKS

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The Plug-in Plane

When the first full hybrid electric hatchback was launched in 1997, there were more than a few smirks from the rest of the automobile industry.
In June 2013, worldwide sales of the car passed the 3 million mark.
The competition stopped laughing a long time ago.

The electrically powered E-Fan trainer has zero carbon dioxide emissions in flight and is significantly quieter than a conventionally powered aircraft.

In the aerospace industry weight, performance parameters and payload are paramount. Consequently, the debate on whether electric propulsion could become a serious alternative to fossil fuel is intensifying every year.

EADS is currently involved in a number of technological programmes bundled together as “E- Aircraft projects”. These include EADS Innovation Works E-Fan. Additionally EADS Innovation Works, in co-operation with Airbus, is also leading the E-Thrust programme (in co-operation with Rolls-Royce Plc.) and the E-Star 2 project in conjunction with Diamond Aircraft and Siemens.

In Europe there is a political dimension to the future of aviation set out by the European Commission’s Roadmap report called “Flight path 2050 – Europe’s Vision for Aviation”. The report sets targets of reducing aircraft C02 emissions by 75% along with reductions in nitrous oxide (NOx) by 90% and noise levels by 65% compared to the year 2000.

EADS Innovation Works E-Fan
Foreground: A scale model of the hybrid electric E-Thrust propulsion system concept was on display in the EADS Pavilion at the Paris Airshow 2013.
EADS Innovation Works E-Fan
The two-seat E-Fan is particularly suited for short missions such as basic pilot training, glider towing and aerobatics, with a flight endurance of one hour for pilot training and 30 minutes for aerobatics.

The electrically powered E-Fan trainer has zero carbon dioxide emissions in flight and is significantly quieter than a conventionally powered aircraft. Supported by the French Directorate General for Civil Aviation (DGAC) as well as a number of regional government institutions in France, the E-Fan is a highly innovative technology demonstrator. After the considerable success enjoyed by the world’s first four-engined electric aerobatic plane, the Cri-Cri, the E-Fan trainer project was introduced at the Paris Air Show in 2013.

Responsibility for the project was divided between EADS Innovation Works, which managed the development of the electrical systems and Aerocomposites Saintonge (ACS) technical director Didier Esteyne who actually designed the E-Fan. The decision to build the technology demonstrator was made in October 2012 and after a very short and intense period of development and manufacture, the aircraft was revealed at the Paris Air Show in June 2013.

Electrically powered E-Fan trainer
E-Fan propulsion is provided by two electric motors with a combined power of 60 kiloWatt, each driving a ducted, variable pitch fan.

Just as BMW chose to create a completely new platform for its new i3 compact car rather than relying on a conventional vehicle platform, the E-Fan is an entirely new concept in aircraft design. Like the i3, the E-Fan was designed from the outset to be completely electrically powered. Innovations include a pyrotechnically deployed parachute rescue system and the e-FADEC optimised electrical energy management system handling all electrical features. Power comes from two electrical motors with a combined power of 60 kilowatts each driving a variable pitch fan providing a static thrust of 1.5 kN which is another engineering first on an electrically powered aircraft. The motors are in turn powered by a series of 250V lithium polymer batteries housed in the inboard part of the wings parallel to the cockpit providing an endurance of between 45 minutes and 1 hour. The batteries can be recharged in one hour.

“The introduction of the E-Fan electric aircraft represents another strategic step forward in EADS’ aviation research. We are committed to exploring leading-edge technologies that will yield future benefits for our civil and defence products, ” said Jean Botti, EADS Chief Technical Officer (CTO).
Furthermore according to Botti,“the E-Fan demonstrator is an ideal platform that could be eventually matured, certified to and marketed as an aircraft for pilot training.”

E-Fan electric aircraft
Research engineer Emmanuel Joubert (right) is the E-Fan project leader at EADS Innovation Works.

The knowledge sharing required in such a technically innovative project required an equally innovative approach to programme planning.
Apart from the major partner ACS, the French innovation institutes CRITT Matériaux Poitou-Charentes (CRITT MPC) and ISAE-ENSMA, as well as the company C3 Technologies were responsible for the construction and production of the wings. Furthermore, electrical engineering experts from Astrium and Eurocopter supported testing the battery packs while the livery was designed by Airbus. Several Airbus technicians based in Toulouse also helped to build the aircraft so that it was ready for the Paris Airshow.

E-FAN Technical data

Wing span: 9.50 m
Length: 6.67 m
Max. take-off weight: 550 kg
Lift/drag ratio: 16
Total engine power: 60 kiloWatt
Battery system: 120 cells
(Lithum Polymer)
Battery rated capacity: 40 Ah per cell
4 Volt per cell
Endurance: 45 min - 1 hour
Take-off speed: 110 km/h
Cruise speed: 160 km/h
Max. speed: 220 km/h

The second project known as E-Thrust came into being in 2012 and is a collaboration between EADS Innovation Works, Rolls Royce and the UK’s Cranfield University under the auspices of the Distributed Electrical Aerospace Propulsion Project (DEAP). E-Thrust is focused on improving fuel economy and reducing exhaust gas and noise emissions by employing distributed propulsion system architecture. This consists of six electrically powered fans, distributed in clusters of three along the wingspan and housed with a common intake duct. An advanced gas power unit provides the electrical power for the fans and for the re-charging of the energy storage.

Sébastien Remy, Head of EADS Innovation Works, explains the benefits of DEAP, “The idea of distributed propulsion offers the possibility to better optimize individual components such as the gas power unit, which produces only electrical power, and the electrically driven fans, which produce thrust. This optimises the overall propulsion system integration. The knock-on effect we expect thanks to the improved integration of such a concept is to reduce the overall weight and the overall drag of the aircraft.”

EADS Innovation Works

EADS Innovation works is name given to a corporate network of research centres working within the EADS Group. More than 800 highly skilled staff ensure the long-term innovation potential of EADS. However the need to address ever more complex issues requires a constant stream of new talent. Head of IW Sébastien Remy states: “We offer a wide range of possibilities to young engineers to develop their skills and capacities to innovate. The opportunities within IW in terms of the range of disciplines are enormous”

Teams organised in global and transnational Technical Capabilities Centres. Their work includes:

  • Composite technologies
  • Metallic technologies and surface engineering
  • Structures engineering, production processes and aeromechanics.
  • Sensors, electronics and systems integration
  • Systems engineering, information technology and applied mathematics
  • Energy and Propulsion
  • Disruptive Scenarios and Concepts Centre

The third member of this innovative triumvirate is the hybrid propulsion system fitted to the Diamond Aircraft DA36 E-Star 2 motor glider shown at the Paris Air Show in 2011.This year an updated variant with a lighter and more compact Siemens electric motor, resulting in an overall weight reduction of 100kg was shown at Le Bourget. Electricity is supplied by a small Wankel engine which drives a generator and so functions solely as a power source. EADS IW prepared the wing-mounted battery packs.
One fact cannot be ignored. Fossil fuels are a finite resource. The aerospace industry is considering a range of alternative propulsion technologies. Engineers such as Marc Maurel and Graham Dodds, working for EADS Innovation Works with a number of equally visionary European partners are well on the way to providing those alternatives. The hurdles are enormous, but think back to the events of December 17th 1903 and the vision and persistence of Orville and Wilbur Wright.
You know how that story ended.

EADS Innovation Works
Additive Layer Manufacturing: The paradigm shift

The aerospace business is driven by the following factors: weight, cost, environmental impact and load. Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) is revolutionary in that it impacts on all four aspects of the business. It has been called the future of manufacturing and a paradigm shift.

Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) - similar to 3D printing
Airbus is qualifying ALM with a titanium airfoil demonstrator (foreground) and stainless steel brackets.

ALM allows single products to be grown from a fine powder of metal (such as titanium, stainless steel or aluminium), nylon or carbon-reinforced plastics. In many ways the concept is similar to 3D printing. A product is created via computer-aided design (CAD) and then constructed by using a powerful selective laser-sintering process. This adds successive, thin layers of the chosen structural material until a solid, fully formed product emerges. Costly dies, form tools or moulds as used in traditional subtractive manufacturing, are no longer required.

The first ALM showcase example to be manufactured by EADS was the so-called Airbike. (“Air” because Airbus was the first EADS company to use the process.) This was a bicycle manufactured solely from nylon using the ALM process. The bike was literally grown from powder allowing the manufacture of complete sections. As hard as it may be to imagine, elements such as the wheels, bearings and the axle could be “grown” at the same time. One interesting aside of this innovative process is that it allows for truly bespoke manufacturing. Items can be tailored like a Savile Row suit to the individual requirements of a particular user or function.

Jon Meyer, research team leader with EADS Innovation Works in the UK explains the benefits of the additive approach

“Once you transition to an additive approach, it takes you less time to make a lighter part. It uses less material, so it costs you less. It’s a win-win”, explains Meyer. Producing lightweight parts can also help reduce the amount of fuel used during flight: “If we could save 5% of the weight of a component, then we’d save more [in fuel] than what we’ve saved in material”, predicts Meyer.

Ian Risk, VP, Head of Innovation Works UK, reveals more of the environmental argument for ALM, “We must continue to make metals more efficient. Additive manufacture will be a real game-changer because it removes a lot of the traditional manufacturing constraints. We’re looking at a new generation of designers with a fresh way of thinking,”

There is also less waste with additive manufacturing than with traditional subtractive machining. ALM utilises significantly less raw material for any given component, and produces negligible levels of waste in comparison to traditional machining processes – in which up to 90 percent of the material may need to be removed. As Ian Risk explains, “With additive layer manufacturing, you are looking at waste far less than 10%, potentially just 5%, with the rest recycled and reused.”

Risk concludes that with ALM, “we are really addressing both aspects: reducing aircraft weight and fuel burn, and increasing material utilization and energy efficiency. We are taking less raw material out of the ground and achieving a greater level of recyclability.”

The process is attractive across industries, says Andy Hawkins, lead engineer for ALM at EADS in the U.K. “It reduces manufacturing time to days from months, you have the design freedom to minimize weight, and you don’t lose any inherent strength. There can be weaknesses in a billet, but with ALM there is no weakness, so you can further optimize the design.”


While the Airbike was a very effective technology demonstrator for EADS; manufacturers across the industrial landscape have been quick to recognize the enormous benefits that ALM has to offer. Niche markets in customized jewellery, shoes to artificial medical joints such as hip implants, can be designed and manufactured with the utmost precision.

It is however in aerospace manufacturing where the greatest opportunities lie as ALM technologies are making it possible for high-strength and high-performance materials to be processed in an environmentally friendly manner, opening its use in major structural parts for aircraft.

Andy Hawkins is the lead engineer for ALM at EADS. “The possibilities with ALM are huge – it’s a game-changing technology. The beauty is that complex designs do not cost any extra to produce. The laser technology can produce complex shapes as easily as simple ones.”

Though ALM alone will clearly not eliminate the need for production facilities, it has the potential to make the supply chain more agile due to the reduced dependence on physical tooling. In the future the ability to shift production from one product to another at short notice may be easier, allowing for a much leaner and ultimately more environmentally-acceptable manufacturing process.

Corine – the Eco Design Tool for SMEs by Eurocopter

“Environmental impact is at the forefront of our design” is a phrase often used by manufacturers today. Given increasing regulatory pressure, it is not surprising that the mantra has become a familiar one and not just in the hard fought aerospace business. However the term “eco design” is one taken very seriously by Eurocopter.

Corine - Eurocopter
CORINE Team at Eurocopter Marignane facility
© Eurocopter

As environmental impact is measured in terms of the lifetime of a product or the process used to create it, companies need to evaluate the environmental performance of their suppliers and of the components they supply. That said, many companies are not able to develop such eco design tools and the sheer number of different industrial procedures and practices makes it difficult to introduce such design tools in a timely fashion.

There are many different axes of improvement in order to reduce the environmental impact of products in the helicopter industry. One of the main focus points in this domain is the collaboration with the supply chain in order to reduce the individual environment footprint of produced parts.

In this scope, the Corine project was launched by Eurocopter in 2010 under the auspices of the European Union’s Life+ programme. By co-financing pilot or demonstration projects with European added value, this EU funding instrument contributes to the implementation, updating and development of EU environmental policy and legislation.

Corine is such a project seeking to reduce the environmental impact of products throughout the supply chain by supplying SME partners with a simple, innovative and collaborative eco-design tool. A consortium was set up between Eurocopter, and five small to medium enterprises (SMEs) (Bonnans.sa, Carbone Forgé, Expiris, REXIAA and Solution F), a company specializing in the development of environmentally friendly IT solutions (EcoMundo), the Regional Center for the Development of Advanced Materials (CARMA), its Italian counterpart LCE, and the Université du Var ISITV TVT.

Conventional painting of composite parts replaced by greener and cheaper technology
© Eurocopter

Now after almost four years, the consortium under the leadership of Eurocopter has reached its objective of providing SMEs with an innovative tool that is easy to use and offers a range of eco-design options. Designed for the aerospace industry but adaptable to related sectors, the tool can also be used in wider-ranging environmental studies and in research projects.

Director of Eurocopter’s French Sites Gérard Goninet explains why Corine is so important,

“The challenge facing us was to provide a group of different SMEs with a simple tool adapted to their needs. Bringing our partner subcontractors in on the development of the tool right from the start of the project has enabled us to embrace the highly creative ideas they came up with, to share their experiences, and to get a better grasp of some of the constraints they face.”

To prove the software’s effectiveness, technology demonstrators were created by the project’s industrial partners using benchmark materials, processes and their alternatives. The software had to fulfil the following criteria:

  • Easy to use IT tool adapted to non-expert requirements, with graphical representation of production steps to simplified environmental models
  • Collaborative interface between contractors and suppliers
  • Adapted to use within the helicopter industry with specific materials and processes contained in the database, which are missing in commercial databases often too generic for all industrial sectors
  • Account production impacts such as Energy (kWh), water (m3), VOC (kg), but also REACH compliance and weight (kg) to be in accordance with aeronautic requirements
  • Specific functionalities such as the ability to compare technologies for a pre-determined number of parts (prototype, 50 or 500 parts)

The responsibility for running the project from the Eurocopter perspective was in the hands of research programme manager Jacques Le Sauce. Le Sauce was also concerned with making sure that the software actually worked in an industrial environment. In this he was assisted by Romain Reynes an Eco-Design Engineer working at the Materials and Processes Laboratory (LMP) whose specific role was to adapt the unique requirements of Eurocopter to the Corine Software. He in turn was joined by Claire Coppel, responsible for Green technologies at the LMP whose specific role was to ensure coherence between the Corine approach and others also developing environmental tools. All of these individuals had to be experts in materials and processes as they were responsible for coordinating the validation tests that all new technologies have to undergo. These included the following work processes:

  • Collaborative work between all SME partners to collect environmental data from manufacturing processes
  • Ensuring the high quality of the data collected
  • Management of specification software to ensure coherence with Eurocopter and SMEs requirements

The benefits of the Corine project are far-reaching. As the result of this collaborative project involving purchaser and suppliers, Corine allows the various stakeholders in the industrial chain to significantly enhance the environmental performance of their products. With Corine, small and medium enterprises now have a new, unique eco-conception tool at their disposal.

  1. Main innovations:
    A collaborative interface between demanders and suppliers allowing both sides to make industrial decisions based on an eco-friendly conception process A user-friendly tool to select materials and processes that improve environmental performance A tool designed specifically for the aerospace industry but adaptable to related sectors - it can also be used in wider-ranging environmental studies and in research projects.
  2. Environmental achievements:
    The Corine project contributes to the reduction of: Volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions Hazardous waste Energy consumption Greenhouse gas emissions - particularly of carbon dioxide - throughout the supply chain
  3. Benefits to producers and suppliers:
    Those using the new tool will benefit from: Having more control over their procedures in terms of environmental efficiency. The ability to set themselves apart from the competition relying on more conventional technologies The ability to be more aligned/coherent with the industrial policies of large players in the industry The opportunity to benefit more from rapid prototyping, rapid tooling and rapid manufacturing