The agency has identified five pillars of technology that must be addressed to move AAM forward: basic aircraft design, piloting, design of an overall airspace architecture, real-time operation in that airspace and community integration. Goodrich says NASA has active projects in all five areas.
Earlier this year, NASA launched the Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign (formerly the UAM Grand Challenge) to promote public confidence and accelerate the AAM movement. In March, the agency signed agreements with 17 companies in the aviation industry to participate in developmental flight testing, airspace simulation and vehicle provider information exchange.
The Role of Composites
The complexity of the UAM movement will require innovative composite solutions. “It’s a paradigm shift with a lot of unknowns, and in the face of unknowns we hunt down the highest-tech, best option available on the market,” says Uzman of Coriolis Composites USA. “Every pound that we save on the aircraft structure is crucial to making the platform a success.” Less weight in the aircraft allows for more weight in the battery, which will allow the vehicle to fly longer and farther.
Coriolis Composites has teamed with several companies building UAM vehicles and installed AFP machines at their facilities. Traditionally, the equipment has been used to manufacture components for large, wide-bodied commercial airlines. By contrast, UAM vehicles are much smaller and require complicated features. This is where Coriolis AFP equipment “shines,” says Uzman.
“For the number of tows placed, our equipment head has the smallest form factor. So it can get into very tight spaces and lay up very complicated parts,” he says. “With the additive manufacturing process, you can do lots of things with fiber placement through automation that you can’t do through manual layup.” Coriolis Composites’ customers are primarily using carbon fiber prepregs with epoxy resins, though some are looking into thermoplastic composites.
The company is also focused on automated inspection and verification of parts for the UAM market. “The market segment is talking about thousands of aircraft a year, so manual inspection isn’t an option. It has to be automated,” says Uzman. At least two companies plan to roll out Coriolis Composites’ automated inspection and verification solutions at their plants this year.
“It remains to be seen how they will qualify these systems and get the FAA to agree that this is an adequate inspection process or if human-in-the-loop inspection is required,” says Uzman. “It’s uncharted territory.”
Advice for Composites Companies