Utah Advanced Materials & Manufacturing Initiative (UAMMI) and Hexcel recently joined together to share their expertise at the Vertical Flight Society’s 8th Annual Electric Vertical Takeoff & Landing (VTOL) Symposium. The biennial event was a virtual symposium that featured presentations, panel discussions and technical papers related to autonomous electric/hybrid VTOL aircraft with a focus on urban air mobility (small transportation aircraft). At the event, UAMMI discussed the challenges of certifying advanced materials, such as carbon fiber composites, to be used in the production of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) aircraft. Hexcel, a leading provider of carbon fiber composites with a large presence in Utah, also presented their views on the materials needs and solutions for the AAM market.
According to the Vertical Flight Society, there are more than 300 various models of AAM aircraft currently being developed throughout the world. Many of these are being developed by well-known aerospace manufacturers, such as Bell and Airbus. However, others are being developed by small startup companies, such as ElectraFly, based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Because electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) AAM aircraft are being designed to carry passengers, takeoff without a runway and carry heavy batteries for electric propulsion, the aircraft structure needs to be strong, yet lightweight. This leads to the use of advanced materials, such as carbon fiber composites, which exhibit an exceptional strength-to-weight ratio. These materials will be a significant part of the eVTOL structure and must meet strict qualification and certification standards.
Historically, qualification and certification of materials used for aircraft, including composites, has been owned by large OEM aerospace companies. These large manufacturers spent significant time and resources to have their individual materials and manufacturing processes qualified to meet the requirements of their aerospace system. Once qualified, the qualification data is owned by the OEM and only available to them and their suppliers and is not accessible by smaller manufacturers.
With hundreds of small companies now developing AAM aircraft and unable to pay the high costs of materials qualification, UAMMI is advocating for new ways to solve this problem.
“How should qualification and certification of composites for high volume production be paid for by the more than 300 AAM aircraft developers?” asked Dr. Tulinda Larsen, Executive Director, UAMMI. “Some AAM manufacturers may follow traditional process and will own the rights, but what about the smaller companies who cannot afford the process?” she added.
UAMMI proposed organizing an industry-led consortium that works with the standards organizations and FAA to fund materials qualification for AAM aircraft and then open access to the qualifications data. New qualification methods, including virtual methods, could lower the costs of the process and speed up material qualification. Alternatively, the DoD could fund the materials qualification process and then provide open access to the materials and data.
Click the individual images below to see the Hexcel and UAMMI presentation slides.
Founded in 2014, the Utah Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Initiative (UAMMI) brings together public, private, community, industry and education partners to assure growth and sustainability of Utah’s advanced materials and manufacturing industry and maintain Utah’s leadership in this key global industry. www.UAMMI.org
Hexcel Corporation is a leading advanced composites company. It develops, manufactures, and markets lightweight, high-performance structural materials including carbon fibers, specialty reinforcements, prepregs and other fiber-reinforced matrix materials, honeycomb, adhesives, engineered core and composite structures for use in commercial aerospace, space and defense, and industrial applications. The Hexcel Salt Lake City site is home to Hexcel’s largest carbon fiber and matrix manufacturing plants. The site is a leading worldwide supplier of carbon fiber with a wide range of qualified positions in commercial aerospace, space and defense and industrial applications. www.Hexcel.com
About Vertical Flight Society
The Vertical Flight Society is the world’s oldest and largest technical society dedicated to enhancing the understanding of vertical flight technology. VFS is a non-profit, charitable educational and technical organization. Since it was founded as American Helicopter Society (AHS) in 1943 the Society has been the primary forum for interchange of information on vertical flight technology. https://vtol.org