For decades, futurists have been dreaming of “flying cars” that are easier and nimbler to operate than a helicopter and accessible to everyone. Today, many aerospace technologies are coming together helping numerous companies develop small passenger electric aircraft as soon as 2023.
It’s no secret that Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) is going to be a hotly contested market with legacy aircraft builders, nimble startups, and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) systems providers clarifying their vision of the future. This new market aims to transport passengers and cargo at lower altitudes through urban, suburban, and regional landscapes. Aircraft that will meet these needs will utilize more- or all-electric technologies.
Vast possibilities, by any measure
According to a 2020 Roland Berger study on Urban Air Mobility (UAM), a submarket of AAM, “the passenger UAM industry will generate revenues of almost $90 billion a year, with 160,000 commercial passenger drones plying the skies.” Further, Morgan Stanley Research projects that the UAM market could grow to $1.5 trillion by 2040.
Even the most conservative forecasts indicate the AAM market has huge potential as evidenced by the hundreds of vehicles in development.
AAM is evolving toward reality
In early 2021, Air One, the world’s first airport for electric aircraft, was launched in Coventry, England by Urban Air Port, a subsidiary of sustainable tech company small (Six Miles Across London Limited) in partnership with Hyundai Motor Company, Coventry City Council, and the UK government.
As technology evolves, infrastructure is built, and the regulatory/certification requirements established, AAM vehicles will take different forms:
- Hybrid electric vehicles will be using on-board electrical generating equipment, such as hydrogen power plants or small gas turbines, to generate the electricity needed for propulsion as well as for other systems like flight controls, environmental controls, accessories, and electric braking. Hybrid aircraft may be tasked with shorter regional routes – as opposed to short-hop intra-urban routes – and could be fixed-wing types that take off and land traditionally, or those that takeoff and land vertically. Such hybrid vehicles, which have the potential of significantly reducing emissions, are bridging the gap between today’s conventionally powered aircraft and all-electric ones.
- All-electric vehicles will primarily utilize rechargeable battery packs for flight energy. These aircraft will likely be of the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) type, using distributed electric propulsion systems where the propulsive motors are distributed around the vehicle in proximity to the rotors that provide lift, forward motion, and flight control.
MEA: a pathway to an all-electric future
More-electric aircraft (MEA), which have been in production for over a decade, utilize electric power for all non-propulsive systems. The trend toward more-electric aircraft has been driven by the desire for improvements in aircraft weight, fuel efficiency, emissions, life-cycle costs, maintainability, and reliability.
Technology advancements in the areas of electric motors, motor controllers and inverters, electromechanical actuators (EMAs), and thermal management equipment are providing the building blocks that enable development of systems for more-electric aircraft.
Technologies for more-electric and all-electric aircraft
Parker Aerospace, via its dedicated AAM systems team, offers a broad range of products and systems expertise for present-day applications as well as future-state aircraft:
- Cockpit controls – Parker Aerospace cockpit controls provide functional and ergonomic interfaces between pilots and aircraft fly-by-wire systems. Compact and lightweight, these solutions can be seamlessly integrated into cockpit designs, including sidestick or yoke-based cockpit layouts.
- Electro-mechanical actuators –These types of actuators are used for primary, secondary (flap/high lift/electronically synchronized), utility, stabilizer trim, and more. Of note is Parker’s development of patented jam-tolerant EMAs.
- Electric motors and controllers – Motor and controller technology is at the core of many Parker solutions for more-electric and all-electric aircraft. Parker is developing families of motors and controllers to reduce cost and development time, while also looking at the newer high-power market needs for motors and controllers/inverters.
- Electric braking development – Applying its broad and deep experience in hydraulic aircraft braking systems, Parker is developing advanced electric braking systems for next-generation hybrid and all-electric aircraft.
- Integrated power management systems – These higher-voltage solid-state electric power distribution systems are required by the AAM market to address the higher-voltage power architectures noted below.
- High-voltage power architectures – AAM vehicle builders are looking for high-voltage system architectures on the order of 500, 700, and even 1,000 volts and higher. These types of systems enable electronic equipment OEMs to design products that are much smaller and lighter-weight than the systems currently in use on commercial aircraft.
- Advanced thermal management solutions – Parker’s offering includes thermal management for electric motors and battery systems utilizing cooling pumps (ePumps), reservoirs, heat exchangers, valves, conveyance equipment, and more. This recent blog article explores the challenges and solutions available for eVTOL thermal management.
- Vibration attenuation and motion control – Technologies that safely and securely attach the propulsion system and airframe equipment, while mitigating the effects of vibration, shock, and sound disturbances, providing longer equipment life and noise reduction.
- Localized hydraulic powerpack solutions – When electric power solutions may not yet be feasible – flight controls for larger aircraft, for example – hydraulic powerpacks offer a robust, compact, and lighter-weight answer. This blog article provides a deeper dive into the benefits of hydraulic powerpacks.
Certification: where concepts meet reality
The AAM market is dynamic and changing rapidly. New ideas for platforms, infrastructure, and the technologies that make this exciting segment possible are surfacing daily.
Amid this excitement, these aircraft must be certified for their intended purpose, as do the systems and components that enable the platforms to execute their missions. Regulatory agencies such as the FAA and EASA are presently establishing the parameters under which AAM vehicles can be approved to fly.
Platform builders need to know that their partners have the engineering muscle and experience to not only design an innovative solution that meets requirements, but to also produce a solution that can be certified. This is where an experienced aerospace technology partner is crucial.
Over decades, Parker Aerospace has built thousands of certifiable components and systems for commercial and military aircraft. All Parker equipment is conceived and engineered to offer redundancy, safety, and reliability with the certification process in mind. Contributing to Parker’s track record of certification success is its state-of-the-art simulation capabilities, advanced test equipment, and thorough knowledge of global regulatory requirements.
Helping customers seize opportunity
As the market continues to ascend, Parker Aerospace and its AAM team are actively innovating to help customers take full advantage of these new and fast-changing opportunities.
To learn more about how Parker Aerospace innovation is shaping the AAM market, email the team at email@example.com.
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This blog was contributed by Chris Frazer key account manager and UAM/eVTOL/AAM business development lead of Parker Aerospace.