As aircraft become more electric, so, too does the complexity of integrating their systems and making sure they work together as planned under all scenarios. Now , better known for engines, has invested heavily in what may be the world’s first facility to do just that.
Aviation is four months away from opening what it believes is the largest and most sophisticated electrical power research and development facility for future aircraft and UAVs.
Dubbed EPISCENTER (the Electrical Power Integrated Systems Research & Development Center), the brand new, $51 million facility will provide aircraft makers and users with the benefits of GE’s end-to-end power generation, distribution, conversion, load management and control technologies.
The 130,000 sq ft facility is located on eight acres on the University of Dayton’s campus in Dayton, Ohio, and adjacent to the University of Dayton Research Institute with which it will work. It is large enough to test four “copper birds” at one time. These, says Vic Bonneau, president of electrical power for GE Aviation’s Systems business, would be complete electrical systems for an aircraft, from power generation to aileron and control activation, avionics and inflight entertainment, laid out and run at actual size.
Episcenter, he says, will allow aircraft manufacturers to develop and run complete electrical architectures for an airplane in real scale. Every component can be simulated in the copper bird, and then switched in for the real item and tested under the aircraft’s operating conditions, from takeoff to landing.
“Being able to simulate aircraft flight has become hugely important,” Bonneau says, as the electrical loads on the engine are increasing from generation to generation of aircraft. “For example, on the next generation narrowbody airliner with all-electric architecture, the electric-generation loads on the engine could be sufficient to stall it when, without bleed, it’s very lightly loaded, as when landing.”
Episcenter can simulate these scenarios and develop solutions before the problems arise. It will have 10mW of power available on opening, with another 5 mW available down the road.
Bonneau says the center is not just for GE to test GE products. He is encouraging OEMs to use it to develop future architectures, with products made by whoever they select.
OEMs do have their own labs, he concedes, but these tend to focus on the qualification of already-determined systems with components often qualified by suppliers in a vacuum, rather than on developing systems.
Episcenter will be run in parallel with GE Aviation’s 30,000 sq. ft. Electrical Power Integration Center (EPIC) on the GE Aviation Bishops Cleeve campus in Cheltenham, UK, which came on line last year. That center has been responsible for developing many of GE Aviation’s systems on the Joint Strike Fighter.
Already under consideration at Episcenter are the incorporation of auxiliary power units and the capability to test for electromagnetic interference, but those, too, are in the future.