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IMPROVING AIRCRAFT PERFORMANCE WITH PLASMA ACTUATORS
Aeroplanes are required to change their trajectory many
times during a flight. A system of adjustable surfaces that manage lift is typically used to meet this requirement. However, Dr Huu Duc Vo and Dr Njuki Mureithi from École Polytechnique de Montréal, Canada, have been working on a totally different approach to flight control – and it may eliminate the need for the adjustable surfaces, which can be inefficient, especially from an economics point of view.
Dielectric Barrier Discharge actuator concept (left) and top view of plasma generated by actuator (right)
Plasma Actuation: A New Approach to Flight Control
Flight control systems are a fundamental feature of all aircraft. These systems change the lift over individual wings and tail planes to provide the moment (or torque) for roll, pitch and yaw when controlling the aircraft.
Roll refers to rotation around the longitudinal axis, caused by differential lift between the two wings, and is used for steering the aircraft. Steering is also assisted by the yaw motion, which refers to rotation around the vertical axis due to net lift generation on the vertical tail plane. The pitch moment, which comes from generating lift on the horizontal
tail plane, is used to tilt the nose of the aircraft up or down to change altitude.
While the actuating mechanism has evolved from cables and pulleys to hydraulic actuators and more recently
electric motors, flight control still relies on movable surfaces that alter lift
by changing the flow curvature over wings and tail planes. The support and pivot mechanisms associated with these surfaces add to the weight and mechanical complexity of an airframe, thus contributing to the operating (fuel), maintenance and production costs. Moreover, the volume taken up by these surfaces reduces fuel storage space
that could otherwise be used to extend aircraft range.
To overcome these limitations, new, effective and structurally robust concepts for aircraft flight control without movable surfaces are being developed. One particularly promising approach utilises a device known as a ‘plasma actuator’.
Dr Huu Duc Vo and Dr Njuki Mureithi from the Department of Mechanical
Engineering at École Polytechnique
de Montréal, Canada, are among the leaders in the field of plasma actuation, and are seeking to establish their approach as an alternative to traditional flight control systems. Their ultimate goal is to improve aircraft performance and efficiency, resulting in cheaper aircraft acquisition and operating
costs as well as lower aircraft carbon emissions through a lighter, thus more fuel-efficient, airframe.
Benefits of Plasma Actuation
Plasma actuators are based on the formation of what is known as ‘plasma’ between two electrodes – one of which is exposed to the air while the other
is hidden in an insulating material (dielectric). Plasma (considered a fourth state of matter) is a high energy, ionised gas made up of electrically charged particles. Plasma actuators work by ionising the part of the air around the hidden electrode and turning it into
While air is an electrical insulator, plasma is a conductor and can
also be influenced by electrical and magnetic fields. In a plasma actuator, the electrically charged particles are propelled by the electric field between the two electrodes, inducing a thin jet
of air parallel to the surface that can be used to alter the flow over the wings and
Image | Improving Aircraft Performance with Plasma Actuators
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