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Leveraging motor racing expertise for Clean Sky’s FastCan

For time-sensitive flights – particularly ’Golden Hour’ emergency medical evacuations and search and rescue operations – speed and agility are key. Airbus Helicopter’s RACER (Rapid And Cost-Effective Rotorcraft) demonstrator – one of two demonstrators to be built for Clean Sky’s ”Fast Rotorcraft” Innovative Aircraft Demonstrator Platform (IADP) – incorporates a whole host of inventive projects, including FastCan, which draws on motor racing knowhow to bring innovative design possibilities for the rotorcraft’s canopy.

Since February 2017, KLK Motorsport GMBH and Modell und Formenbau Blasius Gerg GmbH have been teamed up as the FastCan consortium, designing and manufacturing the carbon fibre canopy structure for Airbus Helicopter’s RACER (Rapid And Cost-Effective Rotorcraft). The project runs until the end of September 2020 and leverages the automotive design expertise of these SMEs to ensure that the RACER’s canopy will be lightweight, safe and optimised for low aerodynamic drag, with a best field of view, and compliant with CS 29 requirements regarding bird strike impacts.

”This project within the framework of Clean Sky 2 allows us to demonstrate our extensive experience and capabilities in the field of cutting-edge composite solutions from the concept stage to the finished product” says Steve Dubs, Head of Design at KLK Motorsport. ”Introducing proven and innovative design and manufacturing technologies from motorsport and the automotive world to the aviation industry can bring a competitive edge to the European market place”.

That’s a view mirrored by Clean Sky’s FastCan Project Officer Andrzej Podsadowski: ”When KLK Motorsport answered the call it was clear that their knowhow in automotive design would have relevance and add an extra dimension to this project. They showed us their specialist tools for calculating air-flow around the canopy and even presented us with a database filled with crash test data. It was obvious that bringing fresh thinking from outside of aviation and their understanding of how to design a lightweight, impact resistant, low cost solution would be beneficial for FastCan”.

In terms of the project’s current status, Dubs reports that KLK is in the development phase of the project which has already passed its Preliminary Design Review and is now in the final stages of the detail design of the canopy structure: ”In parallel with our design engineers, our stress department is optimising the laminate lay-up of the carbon fibre structure to fulfil all necessary requirements with regards to strength, stiffness and bird impact” says Dubs. ”Here, the close relationship between engineering and manufacturing plays a crucial role in ensuring both a structurally sound and lightweight structure as well as efficient production economics”.

But there’s also a bigger potential in terms of the synergies between the automotive and aeronautical worlds and the value of pooling expertise, with the FastCan team’s objectives being to ”optimise, mature and prove proprietary and innovative design processes and manufacturing technologies for new aerospace applications. The goal is to provide an innovative and highly integrated technologies demonstrator that successfully applies motorsport and automotive knowhow to the aviation industry. This technology transfer serves to improve and complement existing industry procedures for structural CFRP (Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic) components” explains Dubs. ”The goal is also to design and manufacture lightweight fuselage components with higher function integration more economically and in a shorter time frame. In the medium term the potential of this technology can be applied not just to individual components, but potentially to the complete airframe”. 

”What we have done in the course of the development are component tests of different sections of the canopy. For example, numerous specimens of the canopy centre beam have been built with different lay-ups and tested in a three-point bending machine” says Dubs.

These physical component tests are an important step in the sizing of the carbon fibre structure and also for the validation of the simulation results. For the same reason, and in addition to KLK’s computer simulations, they are planning physical bird strike tests (using jelly birds) on representative carbon fibre sandwich panels.

”From the Clean Sky perspective, the inclusion of non-aviation SME’s is added value, because people from outside the industry think out of the box” says Clean Sky’s Podsadowski. ”They’re not accustomed to working within the constraints of airworthiness regulations and certification processes. Sometimes outside players are seen as disruptive, but they’re very experienced engineers, so plenty of things are possible. The tubular structure for the canopy proposed by FastCan is highly innovative”.

Going forward, the flightworthy canopy will be delivered to Airbus Helicopters for installation and integration into the complete airframe prior to the flight tests. Concurrently, KLK Motorsport will support the test program with relevant flight documentation and engineering support.