Clean Aviation’s Scaled Flight Demonstrator completed 19 flights in October, staying airborne for a total of eight hours. The scaled aircraft, with a wingspan of four meters, is part of an initiative to develop cleaner aviation technologies. Let’s take a closer look below.

Scaled Flight Demonstrator test flights

The Scaled Flight Demonstrator (SFD), featuring a wingspan of 4 meters, take-off weight of 140 kg and cruise speed of 85 knots, conducted 19 flights in the space of two weeks. The aircraft took off and landed at Taranto-Grottaglie Airport in Southern Italy between October 17th and October 31st, completing a total of eight flight hours.

The SFD, developed in partnership with Airbus, CIRA (Italian Aerospace Research Centre), Royal NLR (Royal Netherlands Aerospace Center) and ONERA (National Office for Aerospace Studies and Research), conducted around 70 automated maneuvers over the 19 flights, allowing researchers to study its performance and gather a wide range of critical data.

Royal NLR said,

“The 19 flights allowed a verification of system functions, the tuning of the GNC, the calibration of the air data system and more important, the recording of the aircraft dynamic responses to many different inputs on the control surfaces to achieve a thorough parameter identification process.”

Royal NLR, which designed, manufactured and tested the SFD and Flight Test Instrumentation, provided the pilots operating the aircraft remotely, while CIRA managed the Ground Remote Pilot Station (GRPS) and Guidance Navigation and Control (GNC). The data gathered from the demonstrator flights will be analyzed by ONERA with the support of Airbus.

What is the program about?

The Scaled Flight Demonstrator is part of the ‘Clean Aviation Joint Undertaking,’ a European Union-led private-public project involving a wide range of leading aviation organizations, companies and research groups. The initiative’s ‘Clean Sky 2’ program will develop over 100 demonstrator aircraft and more than 1000 technologies to explore sustainable, climate-neutral aviation solutions.

clean sky 2 plan

Photo: Clean Aviation

The program aims to develop new technologies to deliver “a transformational leap in aircraft performance in the 2030s,” with the ultimate goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. The SFD falls under the program’s ‘Large Passenger Aircraft Innovative Aircraft Demonstration Platform,’ which is exploring advanced wing and engine designs, fuselage cabins and cockpit navigation systems.

As explained by Royal NLR,

“In order to achieve a climate-neutral air transport system by 2050, disruptive technologies will need to be developed and tested. To progress through the various development and manufacturing maturity gates before integration on an aircraft, industry relies on analyses and assessments based on numerical simulations, wind tunnel testing and many other ground test facilities.”

New demonstrator coming next year

The final evaluation of data gathered during the demonstrator flights will be completed by ONERA and Airbus in Q1 2023. Partners in the Clean Sky 2 program are actively developing a new version of the SFD, which will incorporate distributed electric propulsion technology.

Clean Aviation SFD

Photo: Clean Aviation

Flights for this new demonstrator are scheduled for some time in 2023, which could bring the dream of introducing electric technology to large passenger aircraft a step or two closer to reality.

Do you think large passenger aircraft will eventually be powered by electric engines? How far away do you think this is from becoming a reality? Let us know your insights in the comments.


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