German Aviation Innovation Award: Profitable ideas for the aviation sector

For the third time and under the patronage of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, the German Aviation Innovation Award this year once again honored outstanding projects. The ideas’ ingenuity and practical utility played a decisive role for the jury, as well as market relevance, feasibility and the effort required for introduction. “This year’s entries have been very impressive. We are sure that the winning designs will also be successful in the market” said Prof. Rolf Henke, Executive Board Member for Aeronautics at the German Aerospace Center and Chairman of the eight-strong jury of experts. More than 60 companies, start-ups and research institutions applied for the prize valued at € 20,000. At the end of April, the four winners were selected at the International Aerospace Exhibition 2018 (ILA) in Berlin in front of an audience of more than 200 guests from the fields of politics, economics, industry and research.

Counter-rotating rotors for enhanced performance

edm aerotec from Thuringia won in the “Customer Journey” category. Their ultra-light COAX 2D helicopter stands out because of its co-axial rotor types with four rotor blades on two counter-rotating levels. This allows the aircraft to fly unusually quietly and offers 30 per cent more power, as the COAX 2D uses the entire engine performance for the lift and does not require a tail rotor for stabilization. With a rotor diameter of 6.5 meters and delivering a performance of 125 hp, this two-man helicopter reaches a maximum speed of 170 kilometers per hour. Thanks to the co-axial rotors, the helicopter’s noise level is reduced by 80 per cent.

On the COAX 2D, the rotor blades are arranged on two levels and rotate counter to one another. As a result, this ultra-light helicopter flies more smoothly and quietly.

Miniature probe for turbine blade maintenance

In the “Cross Innovation” category, Rolls-Royce secured the prize in collaboration with the German company Schölly Fiberoptic and the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology. The engine manufacturer succeeded in increasing the service life of aircraft turbine blades. Engines can reach temperatures of up to 1700° C and in order to prevent the blades from melting, they are cooled using tiny air channels. If these cooling holes are blocked, the performance of the blades will be reduced. Based on experience from the field of medical endoscopy, Rolls Royce developed a miniature probe which is inserted into the engine during servicing via injection nozzles in order to clean the cooling holes of the blades. This involves a special cleaning head directing a very high-pressure jet of water (500 bar) at the blades. Up to 360 air cooling holes can therefore be cleaned at the same time, extending the service life of the blades by 20 to 30 per cent.

Fuel cells instead of auxiliary power units

Aircraft manufacturer Airbus won the “Reduction of emissions” category with their “Hydrogen to Torque Imponator”. Based on an innovative, hydrogen-operated fuel cell system which in future could replace the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) in the tail of the aircraft. The APU supplies energy for on-board systems such as air-conditioning and electronics. Until now, these were operated using kerosene. The new drive design of Airbus operates an electrical mini power unit with the power from the fuel cell in order to take over the tasks of the APU. One airplane could therefore save up to three percent of kerosene as a result and therefore would reduce CO² emissions accordingly.

Barnaby Law, Program Director Hydrogen and Fuel Cell, Wolfgang Engel, Expert Air Systems Physical Integration, and Claus Hoffjann, Expert Integrated Fuel Cell Technology (from left), with the award-winning fuel cell demonstrator “Hydrogen to Torque (H2T) Imponator”.

The outside barely hints at the refined technology within: The “Hydrogen to Torque (H2T) Imponator” from Airbus.

From networked assembly areas to data glasses

Aviation supplier Premium Aerotec impressed the jury in the “Industry 4.0” category with its recently unveiled assembly line for aircraft doors in Varel (Lower Saxony). Humans and machinery work hand in hand with digital elements at the high-tech production facility. A state-of-the-art production control system is used to network all construction areas. Using a touch panel on the work bench, staff members can call up all data relevant to production. As a result, paper-based documentation is no longer required. Digital data glasses display the test features directly in front of the quality checkers’ eyes, produce photos of the component and save them in a digital file. Autonomous transportation vehicles as well as drilling and measuring robots support the production.

Drilling and measurement robots, autonomous transportation vehicles, networked construction areas – the new production line at Premium Aerotec is at the cutting edge of technology.

The German Aviation Innovation Award is supported by the German Aerospace Industries Association (BDLI), the German Aviation Association (BDL), the digital association Bitkom, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the Center of Applied Aeronautical Research as well as the P3 Group, a leading management consultant and engineering firm. Find out more here about the 2017 prize winners.

Text by Gesine Oltmanns
Photos: Premium Aerotec, edm aerotec, Airbus