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Vertical flight is not for the faint-hearted

Gianmarco Scalabrin
12 Dec 2022
capgemini-engineering

Building a new and sustainable market requires an ecosystem of multi-disciplinary companies and subject matter experts working together to solve difficult problems. And today’s urgent need for green energy and noise-free aircraft is poised to propel the growth of the electric vertical and take-off (eVTOL) market.

Over the last decade, innovators and legacy manufacturers have been quietly developing the core technologies and tested prototypes and demonstrators. These include startups such as Joby, Archer, Beta Technologies, Lilium, and Vertical Aerospace, as well as established aerospace leaders including Airbus, Boeing, and Rolls-Royce. In 2021 alone, these companies raised around $7 billion in private investment; more than doubling the amount over the last decade.

But vertical flight is not for the faint of heart.

It is a very capital-intensive endeavor with significant R&D costs in several emerging technologies, including high-density batteries, distributed propulsion systems, and novel aerodynamic designs to improve aircraft performance without compromising system redundancy or safety.  And while some organizations have succeeded in overcoming major engineering hurdles, the next few years will be about proving the safety and operational reliability of their aircraft to airworthiness authorities and to the public.

A major endeavor when bringing a new aircraft to market is certification, the process that demonstrates how the aircraft systems meet EASA/FAA airworthiness requirements. And certification for a new, low-carbon aerospace system is by far the most expensive and challenging task prior to market entry.

Path to certification

Currently, as part of the aircraft certification process, companies are required to:

  1. Engage as early as possible with regulators such as FAA or EASA to collaboratively define how airworthiness standards will apply to manufacturers’ specific eVTOL architectures and systems design. This includes:
    • Definition and agreement of working methods used for the development and certification of the aircraft
    • Agreement of the certification programs and level of involvement from the regulators
  2. Define a test plan that includes ground testing, simulations, in-flight data acquisition, HIL and SIL (Hardware- and Software-in-the-Loop) and critical software testing. For example, addressing:
    • How should manufacturers acquire the information required to comply with Part 23|Special conditions (SC) VTOL requirements?
    • How to optimize test plans based on data availability and flight test campaigns
  3. Collect data and engineering artifacts from real and virtual mission testing, including:
    • Production and collection of existing engineering artifacts and models, including model fidelity analysis
    • The collection of flight handling and performances data from HIL/SIL simulations, flight tests and engineering analysis
    • Automate the search and annotation of data to match the informational needs
  4. Perform compliance and systems performance checks:
    • Display the collected information in an accessible and automated form 
    • Assess and classify tests results   
  5. Evaluate compliance and submit documentation to airworthiness authorities       

Such processes consistently follow a rigid and gated approach known as Validation and Verification (V&V). During the V&V process, requirements are first validated and cascaded down to the component level of the aircraft.

Then, during the design, build and test phases, the desired product for the market is verified with a set of analysis and flight tests agreed with the regulators. These aircraft design reviews are known as Preliminary Design Review (PDR) and Critical Design Review (CDR), after which the certificate will be released.

Here a glimpse of how this looks:

Today, the frontrunners in the nascent advanced air mobility space are racing to complete their aircraft design phase, which includes a concrete certification plan. In addition, most developers are also seeking to bend the cost and time curves when compared to traditional aircraft development, while following robust certification programs.

Capgemini Engineering has been a long-standing engineering and R&D partner to the aviation industry, working with suppliers and government regulators for many decades. We understand what it takes to design and certify parts and systems for the safety-critical aviation sector and the automotive and railway industries.

The deployment of model-based systems engineering, digital twin, and the digital engineering practices we have put in place to support certification activities for our customers have been demonstrated to improve teams’ productivity and reduce recurrent costs across a product’s lifecycle by up to 40%.

Digitalizing Next-Gen Aircraft Certification Workflow

Nowadays, organizations face more technology decisions than ever before. From smart cloud modernization to AI and machine learning, and from digital experiences to data analytics, weaving together different technology platforms can seem overwhelming. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Digital leaders focus on the outcomes that will drive growth and create flexibility for the business. They’re seizing the opportunity to use digital technology to advance their business strategy.

At Capgemini Engineering, we have identified four significant areas of digital acceleration, where we see next-generation aviation companies achieving high standards in their design-for-certification goals with quality, time, and risk reduction:

  1. Digitalizing the certification workflow will improve data traceability from regulatory airworthiness to evidence compliance, whilst enabling automated VTOL test case generation and systems trade-off analysis
  2. Incorporating data-driven machine learning to automate test scenario generation
  3. Automating tasks orchestration, and the generation of test cases combining a wide variety of sources of evidence, such as Model-in-the-Loop (MIL), SIL and HIL testing, computational analysis, and flight tests
  4. Building digital twins of flight scenarios. This will further extend to high-volume manufacturing and fleet operations that rely on flight test campaign results.

A digital certification process will therefore help ease the burden of aircraft certification while automating test reviews and compliance evidence generation. Here is a glimpse of how a digital certification process could look:

As a technology powerhouse, we build in-house assets and technological enablers that fit companies’ most compelling requirements and help them transform their businesses with ready-to-use solutions. Here are a few examples of technologies that are leading companies in delivering safe and reliable aviation products with reduced lead times:

Constrained Software Test (Test Case Generation):

Based on established principles of statistical testing, it enables companies to:

  • Establish early verification conditions (VCs) based on requirements and systems specifications
  • Define which software test to perform
  • Perform random tests derived from VCs and system constraints
  • Perform checks of the Systems Under Test (SUT) behaviors against reference models and VCs

Validation Plan Generation and Intelligent Testing (ATLAS Test Scheduling):

AI-based generation of a “Complete/Explicable/Smart” Validation Plan using genetic algorithms & Swarm intelligence to optimize data coverage:

  • Generation of hundreds of test scenarios in a matter of seconds
  • Automatic generation for «homogeneous covering » of test cases
  • Automatic validation of plans and updates after each change based on test results
  • Improved faulty or limited case diagnosis

Auto-detection of Flight Test Anomalies (Improved Result Assessment and Classification):

Detection of non-standard flight characteristics can be automated using a combination of statistical methods, Principal Component Analysis (PCA) and machine learning.

Our proprietary AI-enabled anomaly detection has been used to save thousands of hours each year, whilst enabling deeper data analytics and diagnosis.

Validation & Verification of Flight Controls (Automated Simulation and Analysis):

Automated V&V processes that accelerate the Validation & Verification of flight controls and handling qualities. Thousands of simulation results that were previously written and checked manually are now automatically generated and analyzed on the complete set of certification requirements.

Our customers are now able to define their own templates and automatically fill their test results including the release of certification dossiers.

Conclusion

Companies looking to shape the future of next-generation aviation are required to collaborate with several suppliers and partners and it is essential they do so by leveraging digital platforms. When it comes to speed, design, and certification, digital process that enable test automation, process traceability and better data capitalization are paramount, and shall be included from the early days of every new aircraft development.

We firmly stand by our beliefs on the urgency of more sustainable technologies powered by digital processes. And we proactively invest and develop in the core technologies that will ensure a better and more compelling future for present and new generations.

Author

Gianmarco Scalabrin

Solution Director​
Gian is the Solution Director for Aerospace Innovation in the US and brings seven years of industrial and leadership experience to his wide range of clients. He is an aerospace engineer with a passion for electric and supersonic aviation and leads our innovation teams in topics such as sustainable aviation, advanced air mobility and autonomous air operations.