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.

Wake vortex research

FRL uses advanced neurological instrumentation to research issues such as pilot workload.

NRC-IAR began wake vortex research in 2005 using the Falcon 20, and later changed to using the CT133. The focus of FRL’s wake vortex research has been on measuring the effects of commercial aircraft wake turbulence and air composition from a range of high-altitude situations.

NRC pilots work with aircraft controllers at YOW to intercept the flightpaths of large aircraft inbound from Europe. One objective is to measure the consumption of jet fuel at high altitudes in order to garner greater understanding of engine efficiency and environmental impact.

Transport Canada, FAA and NASA are all involved in research with this program, as are several private companies. Erdos explains, “Most of our understanding of the effect of burning jet fuel comes from running a jet engine in test cells on the ground.

This is not entirely accurate as it doesn’t take into account the effect of altitude. We are able to sample the air a few miles behind a transport aircraft, and this gives us a much more accurate insight into the combustion process.” Erdos is the lead researcher in vortex research, while Brown is the test pilot.

The CT133 was selected because of its construction, which allows it to withstand the demands of flying in the wake vortex of a much larger aircraft. As a military trainer, the aircraft was designed with a 7G-plus airframe limit, excellent performance, speed and ceiling, making it ideal for the wake vortex and turbulence that arre encountered during testing at airline operating altitudes.

Erdos describes the aircraft as unlike any other research aircraft in its field: “It’s a specially designed vortex study machine.”

Helicopter research

Representatives of NRC’s fleet. (top to bottom) DHC6 Twin Otter, Convair 580, Canadair CT133 and CCF Harvard Mark IV.

For several years, NRC-IAR has been conducting research into possible solutions to brownout and whiteout conditions, in order to improve rotary-wing availability in such scenarios. These conditions can cause loss of visual references with the ground prior to touchdown, which can lead to lateral drift and in extreme cases even cause the aircraft to be damaged or roll over upon touchdown.

Last July, a Canadian Forces CH146 Griffon was lost in Afghanistan due to a brownout, resulting in the deaths of 2 Canadian servicemen. As Erdos notes, “the military are very interested in this area of research.” Flying since 1991, NRC’s FBW Bell 412HP is used to test and implement new technology and sensors.

Research so far has shown that an enhanced vision system (EVS), combined with millimeter-wave radar sensors and synthetic vision system (SVS), could be a solution. The program has involved NRC researchers and test pilots from Canada, the US, the UK and Germany.

Helicopter test pilots come from around the world to fly the Bell 205 and 412 test aircraft and simulate real-life conditions. “The magic of the 412 is that it can simulate almost any kind of flying object, from a hot air balloon to a Piper Cub, a modern airliner or fighter jet,” says Erdos. “Thanks to FBW technology, flight characteristics can be tailored to the customer’s needs.”

IPY Cryo

Chief Test Pilot Erdos (L) and FRL Dir Stewart Baillie with recently ac­quired Extra 300 inside the hangar at YOW.

Since 2007, NRC-IAR FRL re­searchers have participated with Environment Canada and other partners in a project called Intl Polar Year Cryo (IPY Cryo). The research is part of Canada’s contribution to the international “State and Fate of the Polar Cryosphere” project.

As part of this initiative, Environment Canada and NRC are testing a remote-sensing method for measuring how much water is stored in the snow and ice-covered territory known as the cryosphere. This system could ultimately be used to forecast and monitor the impact of climate change, and determine the flooding potential of river basins during heavy snowfall years.

During winter 2007–08, NRC flew its Twin Otter on several missions in northern Quebec—around Sept-Îles, Kuujjuaq and eastern Hudson Bay—collecting radiometric data on the cryosphere. The Twin Otter was used in a similar data-gathering campaign over the Northwest Territories in Apr 2009.

STAR project

In Nov 2007, the Convair 580 and crew traveled to Nunavut to take part in the Storm Studies in the Arctic (STAR) research project. STAR brings together researchers from NRC-IAR, Environment Canada and 5 Canadian universities to gain a better understanding of Arctic storms and improve weather forecasting in lower Arctic regions.

Equipped with an array of cloud physics instrumentation to gather a range of data including information on the structure and evolution of storms, blizzards, blowing snow and precipitation, the Convair flew almost 20 research missions in stormy weather conditions over a month-long period. NRC researchers imaged cloud droplets, determined whether clouds were full of ice or liquid, and measured cloud motion.

Microgravity flights

FRL uses its FBW Bell 205 and 412 for researching and developing helicopter handling qualities.

NRC operates one of the few Western zero-G aircraft—a specially reconfigured Dassault Falcon 20. The aircraft is available through the Canadian Space Agency to any company that wishes to conduct research involving microgravity. “Initially, we fly the aircraft at its maximum speed at an altitude of 10,000–12,000 ft,” says Falcon Co-Coordinator Carl Swail.

“We then do a 2G pull up with 50–55° of pitch altitude, upload a big parabola on the way down, and we can achieve about 25 seconds of microgravity.” During this process, the occupants in the cabin begin floating—but so do the fuel and hydraulic fluids. NRC had to modify the Falcon’s fuel systems to avoid flameout, and alter the hydraulics system so that it replenishes the engines with oil during parabolic descents.

Depending on the research requirements, Supervisor Flight Ops and Training Tim Leslie can perform up to 24 parabolics in a single flight lasting between 45 and 90 minutes. NRC flies its Falcon 20 nearly 50 hrs a year on about 70 flights.

Philippe Cauchi is a freelance writer, media relations spec­ialist and analyst based in Montreal QC, Canada. He is also in charge of developing media contacts on behalf of Paris-based charter operator VallJet.



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