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UTAS developing slat and flap systems for next commercial jets

UTC Aerospace Systems is developing new "fully-distributed" electric flap and slat control systems for next-generation commercial aircraft such as Boeing's proposed New Mid-market Airplane (NMA).

The effort reflects UTAS' broader "more electric" initiative to develop electric aircraft systems to replace older hydraulic, pneumatic and mechanical technologies, say UTAS executives.

The flap and slat systems envisioned by UTAS would use multiple electric motors distributed along the inside of the wing to extend or retract individual flaps and slats, UTAS actuation and propeller systems technical lead Paul Smith tells FlightGlobal.

The motors would be synchronised to move panels together as a system, though they could also move panels individually, providing new degrees of aircraft control, Smith says.

Led by UTAS' actuation systems business in the UK city of Wolverhampton, the technology would replace largely-mechanical systems currently installed on large commercial aircraft. Existing systems typically use central power units to turn transmission shafts that connect via gearboxes to the actuators that move flaps and slats, UTAS says.

"It probably lends itself more to the bigger aircraft in the shorter term – maybe something like an NMA, or a next-generation single-aisle" aircraft, UTAS actuation systems business development director David Chard says of the technology.

The NMA is Boeing's envisioned New Mid-market Airplane, which would have some 220-270 seats and range up to 5,000nm (9,260km). The airframer intends to decide in 2019 whether to launch the project, with deliveries targeted to start by the middle of next decade, Boeing has said.

United Technologies chief executive Gregory Hayes has raised doubt if the company will compete for NMA work, citing Boeing's efforts to squeeze costs from suppliers.

"We would obviously like to have a position on that aircraft, but it has to make sense," Hayes said on 22 October. Boeing has "some pretty tough cost targets out there, but they are optimistic about the market size", he adds.

Working in partnership with other UK companies and universities, UTAS aims to finish developing the new slat and flap systems by 2022. The UK government has committed to fund half of the £6.5 million ($8.4 million) project, UTAS says.

Distributed electric flap and slat systems could use 40% fewer parts and weigh 10% less than existing systems, while also placing less load on aircraft structures, Smith says.

Workers could install the systems on new aircraft in about half the time as existing systems, enabling manufacturers to squeeze more efficiency out of production lines, he adds.

UTAS also intends to equip the systems with electric sensors to warn airlines of potential flap or slat failures.

UTAS already produces flap or slat components on aircraft like Airbus A220s, A320s, A330s, Bombardier CRJs and Irkut MC-21s, the company says.

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