Currawong looks beyond Tasmania's shores

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When you think of the Australian island state of Tasmania, it's probably beautiful scenery that comes to mind, not a burgeoning aerospace sector.

But one Tasmanian company is carving a niche for itself in the highly competitive aerospace and defence industry, and has attracted the interest of the big global players.

In July, Currawong Engineering, based in Kingston - just south of the island's capital, Hobart - signed a joint development and distribution agreement with US-based firm Goodrich for Currawong's high efficiency electronic fuel injection (EFI) technology for small gasoline and heavy fuel unmanned aerial vehicle engines.

Under the terms of the deal, Goodrich becomes the worldwide distributor for marketing, selling and integrating Currawong's technology, the small engine electronic fuel injection system (SEEFIS).

currawong high efficiency electronic fuel injection engine, currawong
 © Currawong Engineering

According to Currawong, SEEFIS solves a major problem in the UAV industry - how to run the small internal combustion engines used in micro- and mini-UAVs efficiently and reliably when using heavy fuels.

EFI offers a multitude of benefits over traditional carburettor systems for fuel management on UAV engines.

Firstly, with an EFI system, the carburettor is eliminated. An EFI system continues to use butterfly or rotating valve systems to regulate airflow, but an electronically controlled fuel injector delivers the right quantity. The required fuel/air delivery is achieved through various sensors.

Also, EFI systems allow the fuel/air ratio to be continuously adjusted according to the operating conditions, in terms of altitude and ambient temperature and the engine requirements, said Currawong.

As a result, Currawong's EFI systems have a lower fuel consumption than carburetted engines - between 15-30%, according to the company.

They also generally provide more power and torque output than a carburetted engine, are inherently more reliable, provide improved cold and hot starting performance, have optimum altitude compensation and can be easily integrated with onboard avionics.

Currawong Engineering was established by chief executive officer Gavin Brett six years ago, in response to an identified need for specialised components in the UAV industry.

Brett, a mechanical engineer, originally worked at car manufacturer GM Holden and then Australia's largest UAV manufacturer, Aerosonde, before the move to Tasmania.

Currawong currently has just six employees, although at the height of one contract it employed 12 at its 400m² (1,311ft²) facilities in Kingston, said Brett.

Brett's relationship with Goodrich dates some back 12 years to his Aerosonde days, when the Australian company worked with Cloud Cap, the Hood River, Oregon, US-based company that was acquired by Goodrich in 2009.

Cloud Cap is now part of Goodrich's ISR Systems business, which specialises in UAV system components, including the Piccolo autopilot and advanced TASE stabilised gimbaled camera systems.

Currawong's SEEFIS is already integrated with Goodrich's Piccolo, with the two systems increasing the engine reliability and fuel efficiency of UAVs and extending their range to achieve longer mission profiles, said Goodrich.

"This agreement continues a long working relationship between Goodrich and Currawong," said Ken Hosking, Currawong's chief operating officer.

"We have successfully co-developed technological advancements, and this extends the relationship into a further important market area," he added.

Goodrich isn't the only major player Currawong has worked with, having previously had a contract with BAE Systems, which saw it deliver 700 SEEFIS units.

With this latest agreement, the combined EFI-autopilot solution will be supported through Goodrich's sales and support channels.

The agreement involves no investment by Goodrich in Currawong, but it does provide the tiny Australian company with vital local support in the US market - which accounts for 99% of Currawong's business - said Brett.

The agreement will help resolve international traffic in arms regulations (ITAR) issues and allow an American to talk to an American if there's a problem - always an advantage in the US market.

"The deal greatly enhances our chances of doing business there," said Brett, adding that Currawong expects great things from the agreement.

In fact, it hopes for results with one particular customer in the near future, which could mean a major project for the company.

Currawong has established itself as a world leader in EFI systems for UAVs. While other companies are doing aspects of the same work, no-one else is in direct competition, said Brett.

"I'm constantly amazed that no-one else has done what we've done," he added.