The aerospace and aviation industries face unprecedented challenges: terrorism, SARS, airline bankruptcies, fears over the environment, the imperative to make air travel even safer.

The key to all these challenges is imaginative research. At QinetiQ, Europe's largest science and technology research organisation, we are delivering practical, sometimes revolutionary, solutions - many of which are highlighted at Paris.

The emphasis right now has to be on security and safety. So QinetiQ has developed a world-first imaging system that can detect stowaways hidden inside vehicles, and even weapons or drugs in a person's clothing or baggage. The "millimetre wave camera" system could also end queueing at airport security scanners, or guide airliners to their boarding gate in zero visibility.

To protect aircrew, QinetiQ is working with Scott Aviation and SAIC to perfect a mask against chemical and biological attack under a contract from the US Department of Defense. The Joint Service Aircrew Mask (JSAM) provides a head, eye and respiratory protection system that a user can don when faced with an actual hazard, rather than wear as a precaution.


Safety next. One cause of high-profile accidents is debris on the runway, and QinetiQ's successfully-trialled runway debris monitoring alert system can detect a wheel nut at 300m (980ft). A commercial version could identify small debris at 2km, a few relatively cheap sensor units achieving 100% coverage of an airfield.

The industry is rightly concerned about the spread of SARS. So, drawing on its experience with nuclear submarines, QinetiQ is investigating how photocatalytic air-treatment systems, shining UV light onto a titanium oxide coated surface, can safeguard passengers and aircrew.

This simple process could reduce the risk of spreading infection, and supply cleaner air, by sterilising recirculated air and removing contaminants.

To enhance engine safety, QinetiQ has developed a technique to enhance real-time control and health monitoring of turbine engines. In parallel we have developed, under the EU's Euram programme, a monitoring system to help engine manufacturers keep blades at an optimum temperature.

Space weather can also threaten air safety; secondary particles generated high in the atmosphere can interfere with avionics and increase radiation doses to crew. QinetiQ's answer is the Merlin space hazard monitor; weighing just 1kg, it is already available for spacecraft and an aircraft variant will be launched shortly.

The challenges facing us must not detract from our determination to build better aircraft. QinetiQ is involved in the search for a new generation of aerospace materials through the ADAM programme spearheaded by Rolls-Royce. We are also working with Dunlop Aviation to develop brake assemblies using titanium metal matrix composites for future aircraft such as the Airbus A380. We also have our sights firmly set on space. QinetiQ recently won a contract from the European Space Agency to design and test ion propulsion engines for a mission to Mercury. We have the largest spacecraft propulsion chamber in Europe, christened last year by Snecma.

This is what QinetiQ is doing. The rest of the industry is also in innovative mood, so this should be a Paris show to remember.

Duncan Valentine is Managing Director (Transport Markets) at QinetiQ.

Source: Flight Daily News