eads innovation works’ farnborough airshow exhibit highlights its research diversity

14 July 2012

The diversity of activities at EADS Innovation Works – the corporate research arm of EADS – is being underscored in the company’s dedicated pavilion at this week’s Farnborough Airshow.

While displays at such events usually have a “hands off” policy, the lightning simulator tube exhibited by EADS Innovation Works encourages visitors to touch the interactive exhibit – attracting electrical discharges to the device’s interior surface.

The normal “home” to this company-funded exhibit is the TECHNIQUEST science discovery centre in the Cardiff area of Wales, where EADS has collaborated with Cardiff University to create a research laboratory on physical mechanisms and interactions with lightning strikes on today’s increasingly composite aircraft.


The interactive lightning simulator at EADS’ Farnborough pavilion is drawing a steady crowd, including these students who attended the air show’s Futures Day event on July 13.

By developing the lightning simulator tube as a graphic example of science and technology at work, the interactive exhibit’s goal is to encourage young minds in being inquisitive about underlying theories, and literally providing the “sparks” that may lead to a new generation of engineers.

The exhibit also underscores EADS Innovation Works’ collaboration with academia through the Morgan-Botti Lightning Laboratory at Cardiff University, which provides the company with access to test resources and a multi-disciplinary research team.

Research at the laboratory is focused on developing new methods of protection for aircraft built with the increasing percentages of lighter-weight carbon-fibre composites, which have an electrical conductivity 1,000 times lower than aluminium. Such materials, if left unprotected, are not capable of dissipating the current as easily as metal – opening the possibility for damage from lightning strikes.

Existing methods of protection to avoid such damage involves incorporating a thin layer of metal in the form of a mesh or foil into an aircraft’s carbon-fibre composite material. While this layer provides safe and effective performance in dissipating electrical charges and mitigating damage, it offsets some of the weight advantages that come from the composites’ use in an airframe.

Also exhibited at the Farnborough Airshow by EADS Innovation Works are the full advantages of additive layer manufacturing (ALM) technology, with the display of a portable unmanned aerial vehicle designed by University of Leeds students with EADS Innovation Works’ supervision.


Additive layer manufacturing (ALM) production technology will enable aerodynamic optimisation in the wing structure in a small aircraft such as this unmanned aerial vehicle displayed in the EADS pavilion at the Farnborough Airshow.

Using ALM technology opens new possibilities for aerodynamic optimization in wing structure, angle of incidence and twist in the production of such small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which would otherwise be difficult and expensive to realize in aircraft of this scale. In addition, different detachable wings can be “printed” in a relatively short time using the ALM process, adapting the UAV to missions with varying operational requirements.

Four students from the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Engineering developed the unmanned aerial vehicle concept, and then created the design and performed an aerodynamic analysis under the supervision of an EADS Innovation Works engineer.

To take advantage of the ALM technology, the students carried out a detailed definition of the aircraft’s wing through topology and aerodynamic optimization. This allows wing pairs to be maximized in terms of weight, aerodynamics and strength – all with low production costs. The students also performed stability and control analyses of the entire system and produced assembly instructions for the print shop.

Another aspect of the University of Leeds’ UAV design was its sizing to take advantage of advanced onboard electrical systems, such as the lightweight hydrogen fuel cells under development by EADS Innovation Works. The replacement of current battery systems with lightweight hydrogen fuel cells would increase the aircraft’s endurance from today’s two hours of continuous flight to approximately six hours.

While the unmanned aerial vehicle displayed at EADS’ Farnborough Airshow pavilion is a plastic version for exhibit purposes, a flight-worthy metallic version of the aircraft is to be manufactured at EADS Innovation Works’ ALM facilities in the UK at Filton, using innovative direct metal laser sintering (DLMS) technology.

Completing EADS Innovation Works’ Farnborough Airshow presence is the display of a highly promising concept in laminar flow research – which results from the collaboration with academia, plus the application of its capabilities in ALM production processes.


The laminar flow device produced by EADS Innovation Works using the additive layer manufacturing process is shown installed on a representative wing as part of EADS’ Farnborough Airshow pavilion exhibit.

Exhibited in the EADS pavilion is a device that enables laminar flow over large portions of a wing, with the component positioned on the wing’s leading edge. This device is based on an invention by Professor Michael Gaster from Queen Mary College of London, and realizing its potential benefits, EADS Innovation Works cooperated with Professor Gaster and Professor Chris Atkin to develop a wind tunnel experiment that investigated its effectiveness at a representative scale.

Production of the laminar flow device with its complex contoured shape was performed by EADS Innovation Works using the ALM process, and by applying EADS’ proprietary Scalmalloy®RP aluminium-magnesium-scandium alloy powder. Additive layer manufacturing has the promise of producing such components at lower cost, while retaining the excellent mechanical properties that are important in complex-shaped parts.

EADS Innovation Works is now working with Airbus to understand the potential of the wing leading edge device on aircraft performance, and is addressing issues associated with its eventual future industrialization. The considerably lower skin friction drag that results from laminar boundary layers brings reductions in aerodynamic drag, thereby reducing an aircraft’s fuel consumption.