Can you tell us about your background?
I graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Naples in 2016. I then spent 3 years at ISAE-SUPAERO to prepare my thesis, which I completed in December 2019. After that, and thanks to my thesis, I found a position at AURA-AERO, a French aircraft manufacturer, where I’m currently working as an engineer in the design department for on-line electric aircraft.
What was the subject of your thesis at ISAE-SUPAERO?
The title of my thesis was, “Methodology for Sizing and Optimising a Blended Wing-Body with Distributed Electric Ducted Fans” and its purpose was to define a set of methodologies and ways for sizing new aircraft configurations in order to meet environmental needs.
The increase in air traffic in recent decades and all the forecasts indicated that achieving carbon-neutral growth would be a major challenge. For us to reach this societal goal, we need to break with the current configurations and to define transport aircraft concepts integrating new technologies with minimum impact on the environment.
Future aircraft will rely on the various interactions between systems, disciplines and components, among other things. This research focuses on developing a methodology dedicated to exploring and assessing the performances of unconventional configurations using innovative propulsion concepts.
Can you tell us about the work you did for your thesis?
The research question concerned conceptual optimization of a flying wing with distributed electric propulsion, a promising concept combining excellent aerodynamic performances and the advantages of electric propulsion. The process of optimizing the flying wing, which is based on FAST, the ISAE-SUPAERO/ONERA aircraft sizing tool, was implemented in OpenMDAO, NASA’s multidisciplinary Open Source analysis and optimization environment.
The two innovative elements were studied separately, given the idea of increased complexity in multidisciplinary design analysis and improved identification of the various effects. First of all, the conventional process was revised to take hybrid propulsion systems into account. Secondly, a method was applied to sizing estimations for a radically innovative airframe. Lastly, a design process integrating both of these novel aspects was developed to study a flying wing concept using distributed electric propulsion. For airplane-level performances, the results were compared with those obtained for an airplane like the conventional A320 model, based on the same high-level requirements and the same technological horizon.
Overall, the hybrid electric propulsion concept is of interest because it makes it possible to perform operations close to the ground (landing, takeoff) without emissions and to save fuel for missions exceeding a certain range. This limitation is related to the presence of batteries – their significant mass is a penalty that cannot be cancelled out by the advantages of electrification for long distances.
Additional simulations indicated that a flying wing concept based solely on a turboelectric architecture always consumes less fuel than the reference aircraft within the limits of the hypotheses taken into account. The results showed that a reduction of up to 25% is possible with this new concept over short distances.
Why did you choose to do your thesis at the school?
During my studies at the University of Naples, I thought a thesis could be a good way to increase my knowledge of the subject of aircraft design, notably for industrial applications.
ISAE-SUPAERO and ONERA were looking for someone to work on the topic of aircraft design. So I immediately jumped on the opportunity. ISAE-SUPAERO is a prestigious school with an excellent reputation in the sector; it is the perfect place to learn all about aircraft design. To sum up my experience at the Institute, I would say that the reality in the field exceeded my expectations!
What positive points have you taken away from your thesis work?
The work on my thesis was carried out in collaboration with ONERA and ISAE-SUPAERO. I worked at both institutions in a situation of continued pooling and sharing. That was one of the highpoints of my thesis. I was also able to work with many interesting people – students, who I personally supervised, and experts at the ONERA laboratories. All of these contributions gave me the opportunity to use and develop several subjects related to my thesis topic.
Thanks to our collaboration with some of ISAE-SUPAERO’s partner universities, I had the opportunity to work with experts in optimization at the University of Michigan in 2018. Our collaboration led to a joint publication by ONERA, ISAE-SUPAERO, the University of Michigan and Glenn Research Center.
My work also enabled me to take part in the CleanSky 2 project, notably on activities in the design part and the evaluation of innovative concepts. These results were used in several publications and in-house projects.
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