Getting the signal with digital twin

A Helicopter with the simulation results of radome and electromagnetic pattern
A Helicopter with the simulation results of radome and electromagnetic pattern

Altair and Leonardo collaborate on the deployment of a digital twin to capture in-flight behaviour of helicopter radar.

Leonardo, a global high-technology company headquartered in Italy, is among the world’s top players in aerospace, defence, and security. The company has a significant industrial presence in Italy, the UK, Poland, and the US, and operates through subsidiaries, joint ventures, and partnerships, including Leonardo DRS, ATR, MBDA, Telespazio, Thales Alenia Space, and Avio.

Leonardo leverages its technological and product leadership positions to compete in the international markets for helicopters, aircraft, aerostructures, electronics, cyber and security solutions, and space. Listed on the Milan Stock Exchange (LDO), in 2021 Leonardo recorded consolidated revenues of €14.1 billion and invested €1.8bn in research and development.

Leonardo’s electronics division was assessing antenna-transmission loss of a helicopter radar system that was caused by in-flight vibration to the helicopter’s radome. As vibration deformed the radome and antenna within, the antenna’s electromagnetic behaviour changed. Leonardo needed to capture the changes at the antenna-system level. However, physically measuring deformation and tracking electromagnetic behaviour during flight was impossible. Leonardo needed a solution to predict the behaviour and optimise the design of the antenna to meet mission requirements.

Let’s get multi-physical

Altair and Leonardo used a multiphysics approach to build a structural and electromagnetic digital twin of the antenna system and optimise the radome design.

Leonardo supplied geometric information and boundary conditions for the antenna. With this, Altair created an Altair ‘OptiStruct’ model and predicted deformation resulting from vibration impacting the antenna. Leonardo validated the model using bench-test data where antenna vibration was captured via sensor and measured.

Next, the team used Altair ‘Feko’ to feed the deformed shape data into a model, evaluate antenna behaviour, and determine the effect of antenna-plate deformation on the radiation pattern.

Leveraging Altair ‘romAI’ with Altair ‘Activate’, they generated a reduced-order model (ROM) to decrease simulation time while maintaining the accuracy of high-fidelity simulations. Activate also calculated key performance indicators of the antenna’s radiation pattern based on Feko results obtained with the nominal shape of the antenna plate. For the radome, the team predicted material properties with Altair Multiscale Designer to minimise weight and intrusion impact – resulting from a bird strike for example – and used Altair ‘Radioss’ to solve the highly nonlinear problems involving dynamic loadings of in-flight conditions.

Digital twins at work 

Altair correlated deformation to the antenna’s design, tracked changes based on vibration, and calculated the antenna’s electromagnetic signature. With this, Leonardo could optimise the next physical build version of the antenna without using expensive physical prototypes.

Altair’s solution also closed loops between Leonardo’s structural and electronics engineering departments by enabling teams to evaluate the radome and antenna system in a unified ecosystem.

Collaboration around the digital twin mitigated information silos and slashed turnaround times. The streamlined workflow produced valuable insights into the antenna radiation patterns, physics drivers, and best trade-offs among technical requirements early in the development cycle, saving the team time and technical resources.

“By using an accurate, accessible digital twin, we can easily optimise the multiphysics performance and evaluate design sensitivities while also reducing physical prototyping,” states Romano Iazurlo, chief technology & innovation officer, Electronics Division, Leonardo.



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