Active flow control successfully tested at BAE Systems

BAE Systems has successfully tested flap-free flight technology intended to enhance military capability, as part of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funded project.

A 3D printed titanium model was put through its paces to physically test its aerodynamic characteristics in BAE Systems’ wind tunnel facilities, which can blow air up to speeds of Mach 3.8.

The completion of high-speed wind tunnel testing marks a crucial milestone in understanding the potential cost, weight and performance benefits that flow control technologies could provide.

The DARPA programme, called Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors (CRANE), is using active flow control technology to alter the aircraft's aerodynamic flow field to add energy or momentum to the flow of air over the aircraft.

The digitally designed, full-scale, active flow control effector model, developed by BAE Systems engineers to push the design to the limit, is helping to determine how the technology can supplement or even replace conventional moveable surfaces to improve the performance of an aircraft.

Tom Fillingham, senior vice president – US programmes in BAE Systems’ Air sector, said: “Our role on DARPA’s CRANE project has given us the opportunity to push technical boundaries to the edge of what’s possible. Our engineers have used new digital modelling prediction software and applied their experience in active flow control technologies, to complete significant testing at our wind tunnel facilities. This exciting milestone brings us closer to understanding how these flow control technologies could deliver operational enhancements for pilots and how digital engineering can reduce the time and cost of evaluating concepts and designs.”

BAE Systems engineers used the US Army’s Engineer Research and Development Center supercomputer to test predictions in aerodynamic behaviour, generated by advanced Computer Fluid Dynamics software developed in-house. The wind tunnel testing has validated Terabytes of data, helping to mature significant aerodynamics research in Computer Fluid Dynamics.

Senior representatives from DARPA, the US Air Force, Air Force Research Laboratory, Naval Air Systems Command and the Royal Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) visited BAE Systems’ facilities in Lancashire during the trials to learn more about its decades of experience in X-plane development, advanced manufacturing and robotics and digital engineering credentials.

The RAF RCO has partnered with DARPA as a co-funder of BAE Systems’ work in support of the DARPA CRANE programme.

The high speed wind tunnel test forms part of the contract BAE Systems was awarded in 2021 to mature the design, integration and de-risking of CRANE to inform future phases of the programme.


BAE Systems

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