National Research Council of Canada uses legacy aircraft to develop new designs and skills

NRC flight tests, advanced engineering and wind tunnel experiments help achieve safer flight, better pilot techniques.

By Philippe Cauchi
Contributing Writer

NRC’s Dassault Falcon 20 is specially configured for conducting microgravity experiments.

It’s not every day one discovers a flight department whose fleet comprises a business jet, a brace of military trainers, 3 helicopters, 2 mid-60s turboprop airliners and an aerobatic monoplane. Moreover, each one is classified as experimental.

Yet this eclectic mix of aircraft is the property of one of the world’s most progressive research organizations, whose sole mission is to develop better aircraft, systems, procedures and pilots—and, ultimately, safer flight. Canada’s National Research Council (NRC) is backed up by an array of 8 wind tunnels, a metallurgy and structures division, engine test stands and a newly-commissioned ice research facility.

Its Flight Research Lab (FRL) at YOW (Ottawa ON) delves into pure research as well as applied science, most often in collaboration with international private industry and public agencies. When a company needs “project R&D,” it turns to NRC, avoiding the need to hire extra full-time staff.

Similarly, Canadian and international public agencies partner with NRC when they require a specific aeronautical competence. NRC expertise includes flight testing, airborne icing, aircraft performance mapping, vortex generation studies, test pilot training, microgravity experiments and avionics development.

NRC and its origins

NRC-IAR Dir General Jerzy Komorowski was ap­pointed on Jul 18, 2005. He has been with NRC-IAR since 1982.

Founded in 1916 with the impetus of WWI, NRC grew rapidly and became a military science and weapons research organization for the next few decades. After WWII it reverted to its civilian goal of industrial research and by the 1980s had regained its status as Canada’s single most important scientific and engineering research institution.

Today NRC has more than 4000 employees and a budget of $800 million. With locations in both Montreal and Ottawa, NRC Institute for Aerospace Research (NRC-IAR) undertakes projects aimed at im­proving the design, manufacture, performance, use and safety of aerospace vehicles.

It also undertakes R&D contracts through consulting, fee-for-service testing and international collaboration. Development and transfer of technology are facilitated through research contracts and licensing arrangements.

The institute’s annual budget is around $53 million. About half of this is derived from fee-for-service work, collaborative research projects and licensing arrangements. It employs 380 people, plus a further 100 students and recent university graduates.

NRC-IAR Dir General Jerzy Komo­rowski describes his institute as “Canada’s national aerospace laboratory,” helping the industry develop globally competitive products and services through innovative collaborations with industry, governments, universities and clients from around the world.

Komorowski sees the work of NRC-IAR as providing a bridge between basic research and that undertaken by industry. “On a 9-point scale that evaluates the readiness of a technology, the institute helps its partners develop to at least a 7, so they can finalize prototypes and make product launch decisions,” he says.

Flight Research Laboratory

The Flight Research Laboratory (FRL) is one of 5 main laboratories within the NRC-IAR framework. The others consist of the aerodynamics laboratory, the aero­space manufacturing technology center, the gas turbine laboratory, and the structures and materials performance laboratory.

Flight Research Laboratory (FRL) Composite Technician Hub Stapper.

FRL’s facility, located at the Uplands Research Complex at YOW, includes a concrete-arch building with built-in shops, labs and office accommodation, as well as a large hangar housing the FRL fleet of aircraft. Some 70 employees work in the facility.

The Flight Recorder Playback Center (FRPC) has as its main role data recovery for the investigation of accidents and incidents. It is also approved to recertify military and civilian aircraft “black boxes.”

FRL’s engineers focus on some highly specialized key areas of research, including flight test, performance, stability and control, modeling and simulation, handling qualities, human factors, aircraft operations, aeromagnetics, remote sensing and atmospheric studies.

Acting Dir Dave Marcotte a­ttributes FRL’s success to collaboration between staff of different professional backgrounds. As he describes it, the engineering pilot staff couple their test pilot expertise with levels of operational experience that give insight that a researcher might not necessarily possess.

FRL staff profiles

The test pilot team is made up of 5 men under the supervision of Chief Test Pilot Robert Erdos. Marcotte describes his position in the team as essential “to make sure that everything is going smoothly and safely, knowing that experimental test flying is inherently dangerous.”

FRL Chief Test Pilot Robert Erdos.

Together the 5 pilots have clocked roughly 40,000 hrs on nearly 300 different types of aircraft. Most FRL test pilots are in the middle of their careers and have significant flying experience. Erdos describes their role:

“Some of our pilots have backgrounds in flight testing and engineering, but one of the most important factors is to have an interest and aptitude for research, as well as the ability to adapt quickly to flying different aircraft.”

Erdos’s role as chief test pilot is to plan flights, make risk assessments, write procedural guides for flight experiments, and review and approve test plans. His specialties include handling qualities, flight testing, flight control development and airborne systems research. He is also involved in the lab’s test pilot training school.

Stephan Carignan is the manager of FRL’s flight mechanics and avionics program. He flew Sikorsky CH124 Sea Kings with the Canadian Forces and studied at the French test pilot school. His current role involves flight research and the testing of helicopters and related equipment.

Carignan’s research interests include ship-borne helicopter operations. He is also involved with FRL’s test pilot training school. Supervisor Flight Ops and Training Tim Leslie is responsible for recurrency training.


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