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September 9, 2022 | International, Clean technologies, Autonomous systems (Drones / E-VTOL)

B612, the Urban Air Mobility Plazza Accelerator

As part of Toulouse Metropole's flagship accelerator and incubator centre, B612, the Urban Air Mobility Plazza Accelerator multi-year programme will assist a minimum of 10 start-ups developing urban air mobility solutions from across Europe focusing on environmentally sustainable logistics and [...]

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  • How The Pentagon Is Reaching Small Suppliers

    May 1, 2020

    How The Pentagon Is Reaching Small Suppliers

    Jen DiMascio The Pentagon is employing new ways to track and funnel dollars to small- and medium-sized aviation suppliers hit hard by a drop-off in their commercial business since the novel coronavirus took hold. One way has been to accelerate up-front progress payments to prime contractors. Ellen Lord, the Pentagon's acquisition chief, announced April 30 that in this week alone, the Defense Department processed more than $1.2 billion out of $3 billion to defense contractors in accelerated payments. The acceleration was enabled by a March 20 memo which lifted the amount that large contractors could receive before delivering a contracted item from 80%-90% and for small contractors from 90%-95%. Lord singled out Lockheed Martin for praise for committing to speed $450 million to its supply chain. As those payments are being released, the U.S. Air Force is studying the needs of small suppliers and charting the flow of those progress payments through the industrial base, service officials said during an April 29 Aviation Week MRO webinar. After the first COVID-19 stimulus package was released, Col. Kevin Nalette, vice director, 448th Supply Chain Management Wing, Air Force Sustainment Center, said his office was asked to find out how much money small companies would need to maintain a constant flow of work to continue to support the defense sector. They had two days to ask contractors–the third- and fourth-tier “mom-and-pop shops” whose work becomes an end item purchased somewhere up the stream. The majority of defense vendors do more work–55% or more–for commercial aviation businesses. “As soon as the commercial sector shut down, we had an amazing ability. We now had their full attention,” Nalette said. “When you come to their attention with basically free cash, it's amazing what you can get done.” Tony Baumann, director of contracting for the Air Force Support Center, is capturing data about where the money and progress payments are going. And he is tracking some 2,700 contracts to find out the COVID-related constraints they are operating under. “My guys talked to all of them,” Baumann said, and they stay in contact so that the Air Force knows when a supplier needs to shut down to clean a business. Then Nalette's group is looking at whether that closure might impact deliveries of critical supplies or inventory. That has caused the Air Force to rewrite service contracts using new authorities granted by the CARES Act COVID-relief bill passed by Congress to keep multiple teams of service personnel on contract so that one group can work and another can be ready to backfill so that no group would experience a 14-day interruption, Baumann said. All of those changes are being tracked and coded based on COVID-19, he added.

  • Aviation Startups Making Progress, But Can They Disrupt The Industry?

    December 3, 2020

    Aviation Startups Making Progress, But Can They Disrupt The Industry?

    Graham Warwick December 02, 2020 The concept of a minimum viable product is not new to aviation. It is how the industry started. But as aircraft technology has advanced, customers have come to expect more than a minimum capability. Along comes Silicon Valley's startup culture, with its drive to find a foothold from which to launch a new technology—a less-than-perfected product that can be developed quickly to disrupt or create a market. How well is that going for aviation? From autonomy and artificial intelligence (AI) to hybrid-electric and hydrogen propulsion, is there a viable product taking shape that can perform a valuable mission? Autonomy The vision: unmanned cargo aircraft plying the skies to meet the ever-growing express logistics needs of the e-commerce giants. The reality: a pair of startups that are converting the Cessna Caravan into a remotely piloted regional cargo aircraft as a first step. The goal is that supervised autonomy would enable several aircraft to be managed by one remote pilot on the ground, increasing aircraft utilization and reducing operating costs. Reliable Robotics and Xwing plan to operate their aircraft manned initially, the autonomy advising the pilot while accumulating the experience required to certify the system. The companies hope to begin commercial flights by 2022. There are plenty of startups pursuing the express logistics market with unmanned cargo aircraft, but by targeting an existing market—several hundred Caravans fly as freight feeders for package carriers—and modifying an already certified aircraft and taking a staged approach to introducing autonomy, these two companies hope to lower the certification hurdles. Artificial Intelligence The vision: automated aircraft flown by machine-learning algorithms that replicate the skills of human pilots but not their mistakes. The reality: The initial approach is to use AI to help the pilot in high-workload phases of flight, such as landing. Swiss startup Daedalean is developing a camera-based system to provide safe landing guidance for general-aviation aircraft and vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicles. Airbus has the longer-term goal of bringing autonomy to its commercial aircraft but has started in the same place, demonstrating fully automatic vision-based takeoffs and landings with an A350 in April. By tackling one well-defined subtask of visual flying, and proving the system can be safer than human piloting, Daedalean hopes to create the path to certification of AI for safety-critical applications. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency, which has been working with the startup to frame the rules, expects the first AI applications to be certified in 2022. Hybrid-Electric The vision: propulsion systems that overcome the limitations of batteries to deliver the economic and emissions benefits of electrification in larger, faster, longer-range aircraft. The reality: Starting small, startups Ampaire and VoltAero are testing power trains in converted Cessna 337 Skymasters. Ampaire's route to market is to modify existing aircraft, beginning with the Skymaster as the four-seat, 200-mi. Electric EEL but moving on to the 19-seat de Havilland Canada Twin Otter. France's VoltAero, meanwhile, is taking the clean-sheet approach with plans for a family of hybrid-electric aircraft with up to 10 seats and 800-mi. range. Delivery of the initial four-seat Cassio 330 version is planned for 2023. While batteries have improved enough to make pure-electric urban air taxis feasible, longer ranges are still out of reach. But there are startups working to field all-electric nine- and 19-seat aircraft within just a couple of years of the first hybrid-electric types. It remains to be seen whether hybrid propulsion is just a stopgap, as with cars, or a long-term market niche. Hydrogen The vision: zero-emissions flight for aircraft of all sizes and ranges. The reality: adapting automotive fuel-cell technology to modify regional turboprops and kick-start the market for green hydrogen as an aviation fuel. ZeroAvia made the first flight of a six-seater with a fuel-cell power train from Cranfield, England, in September and plans a 300-mi. demonstration flight. The startup's route to market is to modify existing 10- and 20-seaters to hydrogen-electric propulsion, aiming for its first certification within three years. Universal Hydrogen is more ambitious, targeting the 50-seat de Havilland Canada Dash 8-300 for conversion to hydrogen fuel-cell propulsion for market entry by 2024. Introducing a new fuel to aviation is an infrastructure issue. By starting small, the startups believe the challenge of producing green hydrogen can be made manageable. But to have an impact on aviation's contribution to climate change, hydrogen needs to be scaled up to larger and larger aircraft as quickly as possible.

  • Air Force’s Roper: 3D Printing ‘Going Like Gangbusters’

    May 19, 2020

    Air Force’s Roper: 3D Printing ‘Going Like Gangbusters’

    "I've been so passionate about bringing in additive manufacturing, and small batch digital manufacturing, to help on aircraft parts availability," Air Force acquisition head Will Roper says. By THERESA HITCHENSon May 15, 2020 at 12:54 PM WASHINGTON: The Air and Space Forces are speeding efforts to adopt 3D printing as a major pillar of force sustainment, now making critical spare parts for weapon systems such as engine components for fighters and rockets. “Additive and advanced manufacturing [has] been going like gangbusters across the Air Force and Space Force — printing thousands of parts for airplanes,” Air Force acquisition head Will Roper said yesterday. “We're starting to print parts for satellites, including propulsion.” And today, the Air Force Rapid Sustainability Office (RSO) announced that it had reached a first milestone in its collaboration with General Electric to 3D print metal engine parts for aircraft — printing a metal sump pump for F-110 engines used by both F-15 and F-16 fighter jets. According to the announcement, the next phase of the program — Phase 1B , now being planned — will involve a family of parts on the TF34 engine, which has been in service for more than 40 years. “The collaborative effort between the US Air Force and GE shows great promise toward the adoption of metal 3D printed parts as an option to solve the US Air Force's current and future sustainment challenges,” Col. Benjamin Boehm, director of propulsion at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) said in a press release. “This capability provides an alternate method to source parts for legacy propulsion systems throughout their life cycle, especially when faced with a diminishing supplier base or when infrequent demands or low volume orders are not attractive to traditional manufacturers.” GE originally approached the Air Force with the idea of a collaboration on 3D printed parts in 2019, and in April this year the service brought in the Defense Logistics Agency to help certify the GE-made parts for airworthiness. ALCMC, as we reported way back in September at the Air Force Association shindig, has also been pushing to get its depots around the country certified to print their own spare parts, beginning with those not critical to life and death. Air Force leaders see additive manufacturing as key to resolving the service's serious problems in maintaining aging aircraft and infrastructure and lowering costs. That said, the new 3D sump pump cover is an important piece of the engine. “Compared to other parts on the F110 engine, the sump cover might have lower functionality, but is incredibly important. It needs to be durable, form a seal and it needs to work for the entire engine to function – which is of course critical on a single engine aircraft like the F-16,” said James Bonar, engineering manager at GE Additive. The RSO-GE program is using a spiral development model, increasing the complexity and scale of parts printing with each phase. “In this program, complexity involves moving from simpler part identification, progressing to part and family of parts consolidation and eventually tackling complex components and systems, such as common core heat exchangers,” the press release said. Roper told reporters yesterday in a Zoom briefing that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, RSO has transformed its planned Advanced Manufacturing Olympics, originally planned to coincide with the now-postponed Tokyo Summer Olympics in late July, to a virtual event to be held November. It will allow 3D printing companies to show off their wares to potential service customers via a number of challenges, including a “printer shoot-off” and a “Box of Parts” challenge where manufacturers will compete to create a drone part without a blueprint. “We have been growing our network of small batch makers across the Air Force and Space Force,” Roper said. “I've been so passionate about bringing in additive manufacturing, and small batch digital manufacturing, to help on aircraft parts availability.” The COVID-19 crises has proven the “additive” value of tapping into a network of small manufacturers as the Air Force has scrambled to obtain personal protective equipment for airmen at far-flung bases, he explained. Because many large producers of items like face masks are overwhelmed, the service set up the “Air Force Rapid Advanced Manufacturing Portal,” or “AFRAMP,” as a method of finding and vetting small producers to meet service needs. “It's a portal where small batch manufacturers can make their capabilities known — show what they're able to produce — we vet them, and that then allows these small companies in aggregate to add up to large batch manufacturing,” Roper said. “We've already delivered over 11,000, different PPE devices to seven air bases that wouldn't have otherwise been able to get access for personal protective gear.” His hope is to expand that portal to other types of advanced manufacturing in the future. “I'm excited about scaling it up beyond just personal protective gear, and really having it be a one-stop-shop in the government for companies that can make things in small quantity — that can't mass produce, but can produce in mass if they're added up with a lot of their other sister companies.”

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