[Avionics Today 11-20-2014] Boeing's 787 ecoDemonstrator completed its first test flight this week. The airframe manufacturer is using the 787 ZA004 ecoDemonstrator to test more than 25 new technologies designed to improve airlines' gate-to-gate efficiency while reducing noise, fuel burn and emissions among other operational improvements.
The Boeing 787 ecoDemonstrator is seen here taking off from Boeing Field in Seattle. Photo: Boeing.
The ecoDemonstrator program was first launched in 2011, when Boeing used an American Airlines Next-Generation 737 to test 15 different technologies that ultimately lead to a 1.8 percent fuel efficiency improvement on the 737 MAX. According to Jeannie Yu, director of environmental performance at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, the ecoDemonstrator concept was conceived out of the company's product development division as a way to accelerate the preparation of new technology for aircraft implementation.
"In product development it was clear that there are a lot of technologies that have a lot of promise, but sometimes technology needs help getting ready to get into implementation and getting ready for service integration," Yu told Avionics Magazine. "What we found is, by using demonstration, we can get these technologies and products to market faster. So the ecoDemonstrator is about accelerating those environmentally progressive technologies and taking a handful of technologies that we think we can help by putting on a flight test platform so they get ready faster."
One of the most advanced technologies Boeing is testing this year on the 787 is NASA's Airborne Spacing for Terminal Arrival Routes (ASTAR), a concept developed by the agency to allow flight crews to make minor speed adjustments based on cues from an on-board system using ADS-B In/Out data. The technology would help pilots use optimized profile descent approaches during the landing phase of flight, instead of the common stair step approach that forces them to burn more fuel and use more engine thrust as they land.
"ASTAR is an algorithm NASA’s been working on to do time-based interval management," said Yu. "This is an algorithm where, if you use ADS-B In and Out data, pilots can better understand the position of their airplane relative to other airplanes and this algorithm would help them use time based spacing. It will tell you then in the flight deck what speed you need to fly as you come in on your optimized profile descent so that you’re spaced at a certain time interval from the other aircraft in front of and behind you. NASA’s algorithm will help us look at flight deck capability for letting the pilot know what speed to fly for flight interval management.”
During the test flights, a second aircraft will fly alongside the ecoDemonstrator to test the flight interval management algorithm with both airplanes using ADS-B In and Out.
Another technology being tested on the 787 ecoDemonstrator is a set of new greenhouse gas sensors that will be evaluated in collaboration with Japan Airlines (JAL) and several other carriers. JAL has actually been equipping their aircraft with similar sensors since the early 1990s to perform airborne CO2 measurements to inform atmospheric scientists about air quality.
"The CO2 sensors that we’re flying are a couple generations later, they’re lighter, smaller weight and they pick up data with higher frequency," Yu said, regarding the sensors flying on the ecoDemonstrator. "They can also transmit data to the ground through the connectivity that we have on the 787 airplane. So we’re testing out some new equipment and instrumentation that would be lighter weight."
Panasonic is partnering with Boeing for the ecoDemonstrator program to use its exConnect satellite-based connectivity system to communicate that data to the ground. That system is also starting to become more common for onboard connectivity with in-service 787s, according to Yu.
Other supplier partners for the ecoDemonstrator 787 flight testing program include Rolls Royce, Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and General Electric.
"The ecoDemonstrator program is meant to inspire the industry and the world to think of how they can apply technology and innovative thinking to solutions to meet the environmental challenges so that we can get on a path to sustainable growth together," said Yu. "The technologies are not necessarily targeted just to the 787. It’s a flight test platform so we’ll look at technologies that you’ll see on today’s aircraft as well as future aircraft."