Boom Supersonic and Rolls-Royce Agree on New Collaboration for Supersonic Overture Engine Program Design

Boom's commercial airliner, Overture.
Boom’s commercial airliner, Overture.

DENVER, July 30, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Boom Supersonic, an aerospace company building the world’s fastest civil aircraft, and leading industrial technology company, Rolls-Royce, today announced an engagement agreement to explore the pairing of a Rolls-Royce propulsion system with Boom’s flagship supersonic passenger aircraft, Overture. The goal of the new agreement is to work together to identify the propulsion system that would complement Boom’s Overture airframe. The engagement will involve teams from Boom and Rolls-Royce collaborating in engine-airframe matching activities for Boom’s flagship supersonic passenger aircraft, Overture. The teams will also examine certain key aspects of the propulsion system. The teams will investigate whether an existing engine architecture can be adapted for supersonic flight, while Boom’s internal team continues to develop the airframe configuration. “We’ve had a series of valuable collaborations and co-locations with Rolls-Royce over the past years to lay the groundwork for this next phase of development,” said Blake Scholl, Boom founder and CEO. “We look forward to building on the progress and rapport that we’ve already built with our collaboration as we work to refine Overture’s design and bring sustainable supersonic transport to passenger travel.” The priorities of this engagement are informed by Boom and Rolls-Royce’s shared commitment to sustainability. Both companies recognize that supersonic passenger travel has to be compatible with a net-zero carbon future, and the two teams will work together to address sustainability in Overture design and operations. Overcoming the technological challenges of supersonic flight provides a unique opportunity to accelerate innovation sustainably. “We share a strong interest in supersonic flight and in sustainability strategies for aviation with Boom,” said Simon Carlisle, Director of Strategy, Rolls-Royce. “We’re now building on our valuable experience in this space as well as our previous work together to further match and refine our engine technology for Boom’s Overture.”  As a result of this collaboration, Boom and Rolls-Royce expect to make significant progress towards finalizing Overture’s aircraft configuration and propulsion system. About Rolls-Royce Holdings plc Rolls-Royce pioneers cutting-edge technologies that deliver clean, safe and competitive solutions to meet our planet’s vital power needs.Rolls-Royce has customers in more than 150 countries, comprising more than 400 airlines and leasing customers, 160 armed forces, 70 navies, and more than 5,000 power and nuclear customers.Annual underlying revenue was £15.45 billion in 2019, around half of which came from the provision of aftermarket services.In 2019, Rolls-Royce invested £1.46 billion on research and development. We also support a global network of 29 University Technology Centres, which position Rolls-Royce engineers at the forefront of scientific research.
About BoomBoom Supersonic is redefining commercial flight by bringing supersonic flight back to the skies with Overture. This historic commercial airliner is designed and committed to industry-leading standards of speed, safety, and sustainability. Boom’s vision is to bring families, businesses, and cultures closer together through supersonic travel and make the world dramatically more accessible. Boom is the first commercial airplane manufacturer to commit to a carbon-neutral flight test program and to build sustainability into its entire aircraft program. The company is backed by world-class investors and has 30 aircraft on pre-order. Founded in 2014, Boom has assembled a team of over 140 full-time employees who have made contributions to over 220 air and spacecraft programs. For more information, please visit https://boomsupersonic.com.

Link: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/boom-supersonic-and-rolls-royce-agree-on-new-collaboration-for-supersonic-overture-engine-program-design-301103138.html

80 YEARS FROM INVENTION, CHINA IS STRUGGLING WITH JET ENGINES

The jet engine has a long and storied history. Its development occurred spontaneously amongst several unrelated groups in the early 20th Century. Frank Whittle submitted a UK patent on a design in 1930, while Hans von Ohain begun exploring the field in Germany in 1935. Leading on from Ohain’s work, the first flight of a jet-powered aircraft was in August 27, 1939. By the end of World War II, a smattering of military jet aircraft had entered service, and the propeller was on the way out as far as high performance aviation is concerned.

With the invention of the jet engine so far in the past, one could be forgiven for thinking that the technology has long been mastered around the world. However, recent reports show that’s not the case. China is a great example, facing issues with the development of jet engines for their indigenous military aircraft.

CLOSELY GUARDED SECRETS

In the age of the Internet and open source, technology moves swiftly around the world. In the consumer space, companies are eager to sell their product to as many customers as possible, shipping their latest wares worldwide lest their competitors do so first. In the case of products more reliant on infrastructure, we see a slower roll out. Hydrogen-powered cars are only available in select regions, while services like media streaming can take time to solve legal issues around rights to exhibit material in different countries. In these cases, we often see a lag of 5-10 years at most, assuming the technology survives to maturity.

In most cases, if there’s a market for a technology, there’ll be someone standing in line to sell it. However, some can prove more tricky than others. The ballpoint pen is one example of a technology that most of us would consider quaint to the point of mediocrity. However, despite producing over 80% of the world’s ballpoint pens, China was unable to produce the entire pen domestically. Chinese manufactured ballpoint tips performed poorly, with scratchy writing as the result. This attracted the notice of government officials, which resulted in a push to improve the indigenous ballpoint technology. In 2017, they succeeded, producing high-quality ballpoint pens for the first time.

The secrets to creating just the right steel, and manipulating it into a smooth rolling ball just right for writing, were complex and manifold. The Japanese, German, and Swiss companies that supplied China with ballpoint tips made a healthy profit from the trade. Sharing the inside knowledge on how it’s done would only seek to destroy their own business. Thus, China had to go it alone, taking 5 years to solve the problem.

There was little drive for pen manufacturers to improve their product; the Chinese consumer was more focused on price than quality. Once the government made it a point of national pride, things shifted. For jet engines, however, it’s somewhat of a different story.

YOU CAN’T GET THESE ANYWHERE ELSE

In recent decades, China has aligned itself closely with Russia for major military acquisitions. Over the years, it has acquired military aircraft like the Sukhoi Su-27 for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, following the nations growing closer after the fall of the Soviet Union.China has also pursued its own fighter development programs, spawning aircraft like the J-10 and JF-17 over the years. While China appear to have had little problem with aerodynamic and avionics development, reliable, world-class jet engines have thus far eluded them.

Attempts to power Chinese aircraft designs have been hamstrung by Russia’s reticence to sell fighter engines directly, preferring to sell entire aircraft instead. The relationship has been further strained over the year’s by China’s efforts to reverse engineer foreign designs. After signing a deal to produce 200 Su-27 aircraft locally, China stopped the production line after just 100 units. Electing to learn from and change the design, the subsequent J-11 ruffled feathers as an unlicenced copy.

Similar efforts were made to accelerate development of jet engines, by copying engines from overseas manufacturers. Reports suggest the CFM-56, purchased from the United States in the 1980s, may have been the starting point for the WS-10 design. Despite having access to the hardware, progress has been slow. A lack of human capital, insider knowledge, and production hardware and materials can make duplicating a complex design difficult to impossible. Early revisions of the resulting WS-10 engine have fallen well short of design goals which aimed to match the Su-27’s AL-31 engine on thrust output and reliability. Overhauls were required every 30 hours, versus 400 hours for the Russian benchmark. Anecdotal evidence suggests the WS-10 also takes longer to produce thrust.

The problems lie largely in materials and machining. Jet engine components must withstand huge temperatures and pressures, while spinning at high RPM for hours on end. Factors like thermal cycling and crack propagation must be considered for the materials used, lest the engine destroy itself before time. Reliability is as important as performance, as all the thrust in the world is useless if the aircraft needs an engine replacement after every flight. The keys to producing the raw materials, as well as creating the high-tolerance final parts, are closely guarded national secrets. Spy photos are easy to take at airshows, and blueprints can be readily stolen – often as simply as searching for CAD files and sending them home. Data on metallurgy and materials and production processes can be harder to lay one’s hands on.

After 25 years spent trying to build a competitive fighter jet engine, China is still struggling to match the performance of a design with roots in the 1970s. Initial production models of China’s latest J-20 stealth fighter used the upgraded WS-10B, but production models appear to still rely on Russian Saturn AL-31 engines. The Chinese-produced WS-15 is slated to enter service within a few years, but until then, the J-20 will be at a thrust deficit to its rivals. In fighter combat, where energy is everything, this is a serious drawback that China will be eager to fix. Worse, until the higher-thrust WS-15 engines reach maturity, the J-20 is also unable to supercruise, meaning it must use afterburner to reach supersonic speeds. China’s premier air superiority fighter will struggle to keep up with its 5th generation contemporaries until the situation is rectified.

As long as there’s money to be made in providing high-quality parts that are difficult to reproduce, it’s unlikely China will be able to buy the information it needs. Instead, it will have to go the hard way, as it did with ballpoint pens. Years of expensive research and indigenous technological development will be required, to replicate something achieved by others 30 years hence. In the military world, as in the corporate one, that’s simply the price of doing business.

Link: https://hackaday.com/2020/07/28/80-years-from-invention-china-is-struggling-with-jet-engines/

FAA requires additional post-storage B737 engine inspections after several in-flight shutdown incidents

The U.S. FAA is requiring operators of Boeing 737 aircraft to inspect engine bleed air valves of aircraft that have been stored after several incidents of in-flight engine shutdowns.
Many airlines are restarting flights following groundings related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The FAA received four recent reports of single-engine shutdowns due to engine bleed air 5th stage check valves being stuck open. Corrosion of the engine bleed air 5th stage check valve internal parts during airplane storage may cause the valve to stick in the open position. If this valve opens normally at takeoff power, it may become stuck in the open position during flight and fail to close when power is reduced at top of descent, resulting in an unrecoverable compressor stall and the inability to restart the engine. Corrosion of these valves on both engines could result in a dual-engine power loss without the ability to restart.
This led the FAA to issue an Emergency Airworthiness Directive AD 2020-51, requiring inspections of the engine bleed air 5th stage check valve on each engine and replacement of the engine bleed air 5th stage check valve if any inspection is not passed. The EAD applies to all Boeing 737-300, -400, -500, -600, -700, -700C, -800, and -900 models in storage on or after the date of receipt of this AD, and any airplane that, as of the date of receipt of the AD, has been operated for 10 or fewer flight cycles since returning to service from the most recent period of storage.

Link: https://news.aviation-safety.net/2020/07/24/faa-requires-additional-post-storage-b737-engine-inspections-after-several-in-flight-shutdown-incidents/

Russia successfully holds flight test of 3D-printed aircraft engine

The flight tests were held at Kazanbash aviation center in Tatarstan.

Russia has for the first time conducted a successful flight test of a 3D-printed aircraft engine, and its production is scheduled for 2021-2022.

The press service of the Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects in the Defense Industry told Sputnik: “Russia has for the first time conducted flight tests of the MGTD-20 gas turbine engine made by 3D-printing.”

The flight tests were held at Kazanbash aviation center in Tatarstan.

In December 2019, the foundation reported successful bench tests of small-sized gas turbine aircraft engines made using 3D printing technology.

Link: https://www.wionews.com/technology/russia-successfully-holds-flight-test-of-3d-printed-aircraft-engine-315081