GKN Aerospace has joined forces with Durham University to develop and implement an ultra-sensitive test method to accurately measure improvements in airframe drag performance. The test is being used to identify surface coatings that will reduce drag by 25% when compared to traditional aircraft surfaces — and when tested in typical aircraft cruise conditions. These coatings must also demonstrate the ability to maintain this level of performance over five years, which is the lifetime of an aircraft’s external paint system.
This project is part of the GKN Aerospace-led future wing research program, VIEWS (Validation and Integration of Manufacturing Enablers for Future Wing Structures), which aims to bring promising wing design, manufacture and assembly technologies to near-market readiness. The program has received grant funding and support from the joint government and industry funding program for aerospace research and development, delivered in partnership by the Dept. for Business, Innovation and Skills, Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) and Innovate UK.
Engineers at the GKN Aerospace facility in Luton, UK, started working with the team from Durham University’s school of engineering and computing sciences in May 2015. In November 2015, the first tests were completed, with 20 coated surfaces assessed for their drag performance. This developmental phase now continues with the detailed assessment of a number of low-drag surfaces, all treated with GKN Aerospace-developed coatings. The development phase is expected to conclude in mid-2016.
Russ Dunn, SVP of engineering and technology at GKN Aerospace, explained: "Smooth and clean aerodynamic surfaces reduce the drag of the aircraft as it moves through the air. In some areas of the aircraft, for example the wing leading edge, the 'laminar flow' (smooth continuous flow) of the air is typically spoiled by tiny changes in geometry and surface cleanliness. This causes the air flow to become turbulent, increasing drag which in turn increases the engine power, and hence fuel, required to travel a given distance."
Dr. David Sims-Williams, from Durham University, commented: "One of the challenges for low drag surface coatings is that they need to work in the real world, on aircraft in service, over the long term.”