How do two globally-renowned companies take technology from the racetrack to the edge of space? It's all in a day's work, when combining Airbus with Williams Advanced Engineering, the engineering and services business of the Williams Group, most famous for its Formula One team.
The two companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding in December 2017 to work together applying Formula One and Formula E-inspired technology and innovation to the wealth of aerospace experience at Airbus.
The collaboration will focus on the ways in which ultra-lightweight materials, battery technologies and electrical cell chemistries can be integrated on Airbus’ Zephyr High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) programme.
Zephyr is a record-breaking, solar-powered, unmanned aerial system (UAS) with unique communications and surveillance capabilities. It will fly at more than 65,000 feet, above commercial air traffic, for months at a time. The first production examples are being manufactured at Farnborough for the UK Ministry of Defence.
“At Airbus we have enormous respect for Williams Advanced Engineering’s technical expertise and achievements, as well as for their impressive record in rapidly bringing new technologies and products to market,” states Airbus’ head of unmanned aerial systems, Jana Rosenmann. “Our engineering teams are thrilled to have the opportunity to learn from the Formula One world and just as enthusiastic about sharing much of what we have learned in developing solutions to high-altitude, solar-powered flight.”
Get the pulses racing
With four decades of experience at the pinnacle of motor racing, including 16 world championships, where lightweight materials and structures are crucial to speed and safety, Williams is now developing these technologies and finding innovative solutions for weight saving with its know-how. Its most recent developments have included an innovative take on using recycled carbon fibre to manufacture components that can be up to 40% lighter than current alternatives at a comparable cost.
As sole battery supplier to the FIA Formula E championship since its inception, Williams Advanced Engineering’s battery technology has been tried and tested. Its world-leading expertise in electrification has become core to the business, working with a number of high profile vehicle manufacturers, as well as other applications of battery technology. This expertise is now being rolled out beyond automotive and motorsport into aerospace and beyond.
“Airbus is a name synonymous with innovation and technology in the industry,” explains Craig Wilson, managing director of Williams Advanced Engineering. “As such, we are delighted to be working with them on this project and hope to share some of our expertise in electrification, battery systems and advanced lightweight materials, as well as learn from their vast experience in aerospace. We are very much looking forward to working together on this project and hope the relationship and learnings from one another may continue long into the future.”
In addition to the partnership on Zephyr, both companies are also looking to inspire the next generation of engineers. Such technology solutions delivering sustainable capabilities are seen as ideal promotional opportunities to engage young people considering engineering and associated roles as long-term, rewarding careers.
“Both Airbus and Williams are always looking to recruit talented engineers and we hope that this joint activity illustrates the terrific opportunities we offer to work in the kind of technologies that will be critical to future transportation,” concludes Rosenmann.