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Affordable safety ready for takeoff

The importance of flight control systems for protecting passengers and aircraft is indisputable. Nevertheless, these costly systems rarely find their way onto smaller planes. Through its partnership with the Technical University of Munich (TUM), Diamond Aircraft plans to change this. They are working together on innovative technologies and assistance systems which will increase the safety of small aircraft. The use of B&R components makes it possible.

The research plane of the Technical University of Munich shortly before takeoff (Source: B&R)

In the hangar of the Austrian aircraft manufacturer Diamond Aircraft, the project team of the TUM Institute of Flight System Dynamics looks intently at the measurement data on the monitors in front of them. The research plane has just taken off from the runway and is now making its rounds high above. Since acquiring its research plane nearly eight years ago, TUM has conducted joint research projects here in the field of flight control. The aim is to apply the results to advanced aircraft design and find economical solutions that make flight control systems standard equipment for aircraft of all sizes.

Passionate pioneers in aviation

Diamond Aircraft was established as "Hoffmann Flugzeugbau" in 1981 in the Austrian state of Carinthia and has earned a reputation as a pioneer in its field. Approximately 1,200 employees around the globe, including 500 in Austria, work in the areas of general aviation, simulators, remote sensing and IT. The company has always pursued visionary goals to develop aircraft that meet the latest standards in technology, innovation, performance and design. Using fiber-reinforced plastic, for example, offers better surface quality and greater strength at low weight than traditional materials such as wood or metal.

From left to right: Lars Peter (Technical University of Munich), Thomas Tholl (Diamond Aircraft) and Lucas Conditt (B&R) (Source: B&R)

Joint research project: TUM and Diamond Aircraft

Aircraft development and testing face increasingly demanding requirements in terms of instrumentation accuracy. The sophisticated avionics involved hardly fit in a university budget, which is why the project team started to develop its own measurement systems.

The technical requirements were clearly defined: simple "copy-paste-play" setup, a modular design and a wide variety of interface connections. It also had to be possible to record both digital and analog bus signals. "We chose B&R because their solution so easily supports future expansions to equip the measurement system for new tasks. The highly qualified local support teams always answer our questions quickly," says Thomas Tholl, group leader for automatic flight control systems at Diamond Aircraft.

The measurement system used during flight testing was also used to develop Diamond Aircraft's DART-450. The DART-450 is the first civilian aerobatic trainer in the world made entirely from carbon fiber and equipped with sidestick control and ejector seats. The dynamics of the aircraft, such as roll rates and accelerations, as well as aerodynamic parameters such as angle of attack and speeds were targeted for measurement.

B&R Automation PC 910 for data recording, routing and visualization

An Automation PC 910 was built into the university's research plane, which is used as the central data recording, routing and visualization point.

Multiple X20 systems with CAN bus adapters and other interface modules were installed in the rear of the aircraft to record sensor signals and forward them to the Automation PC 910. Around seven man-years have now been invested in the project, particularly in developing the software library and all additional functionalities.

The DART-450 civilian aerobatic trainer has a maximum takeoff power of 500 horsepower, sidestick control and ejector seats. (Source: Diamond Aircraft)

The flight test system comprising a Automation PC and X20 modules proved to be an extremely flexible and cost-effective solution that not only records all the relevant sensor data and flight parameters, but also allows them to be viewed live during flight. The Automation PC preprocesses the data and forwards it on to a tablet computer, cockpit displays and even the ground control station.

The flight test system is also able to forward signals from the ground control station to the onboard control system in order to conduct remote aircraft control experiments in the development of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology.  "The next step in the upcoming years will be to move towards digital flight control in the small aircraft sector," says project manager and TUM research associate Lars Peter.

While the research plane is in the air, flight data is recorded, analyzed and used to develop new algorithms. (Source: B&R)

A balancing act between small aircraft and large-scale industry

The requirements of small aircraft and UAVs – namely high flexibility and speed in development – set it apart from those of large companies such as Airbus. Development of the DART-450, for example, took only 12 months from the initial model design to the first flight.

One of the main goals set by the project team is to make flight control a cost-effective option for small aircraft, so this was the primary focus of the measurement system research. "If a small aircraft costs around €1,000,000 – you can't have a flight controller that doubles the price. That would be a problem for the private aviation market," says Peter. "The situation is similar for UAVs: if the goal is to have more of them in the air taking on a growing range of civilian tasks, each one cannot cost €25 million."

Experimenting in this sector is a costly endeavor, however. The research equipment installed by the TUM project team in its research plane has already exceeded the value of the aircraft itself. "That's why we are so very grateful to B&R for providing us with the devices we need free of charge. It's really fantastic and makes a huge difference in our project," says Peter.

A seat was removed from the university research aircraft to make room for experimental systems and B&R technology. (Source: B&R)
An X20 system with several CAN bus adapters and other interface modules was used in the rear of the research plane to record sensor signals. (Source: B&R)
  • anonymus
    Thomas Tholl
    Group Leader - Automatic Flight Control Systems, Diamond Aircraft
    "We chose B&R because their solution so easily supports future expansions to equip the measurement system for new tasks. The highly qualified local support teams always answer our questions quickly."
  • anonymus
    Lars Peter
    Project manager and research associate, Technical University of Munich
    "We are very grateful to B&R for providing us with the devices we need free of charge. It's really fantastic and makes a huge difference in our project," says Peter.
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