Developments and Innovations in Aerospace Technologies

The aviation sector struggles as the pandemic continues to cause disruptions. However, new technologies and the individuals required to develop and apply them will continue to expand.

FREMONT, CA: Engineers who embrace new technologies, lifelong learning, and adaptability should fare well in a market that continues to be shaken by the pandemic, despite the industry's uncertain economic outlook.

According to a recent report by Deloitte, the commercial aerospace market will experience turbulence until roughly 2024 as airlines gradually rebuild passenger traffic and capacity decimated by COVID. For the next 18 months, orders for new aircraft and rotorcraft will be significantly below pre-pandemic levels, impacting the entire commercial aerospace supply chain, from large OEMs to small aftermarket parts manufacturers.

However, engineers can anticipate a relatively smooth ride in the space and defense sectors. The number of space launches and related services is comparable to previous years. Opportunities in satellite broadband internet have been fueled by increased funding and declining costs, while the Space Force, a new military branch, is anticipated to attract the public-sector investment required to support new engineering jobs, R&D, and new technologies, for example. Additionally, the Air Force continues to adopt digital manufacturing techniques and has recently launched several programs to cultivate and recruit engineers interested in structural materials, additive manufacturing, sensors, artificial intelligence, and data science.

Regardless of the performance of the various aerospace sectors in the coming years, new technologies and processes will remain in high demand as manufacturers and contractors seek to reduce costs by increasing fuel efficiency, developing new materials, and enhancing supply chain management. All experts emphasize that engineers at all stages of their careers must engage in lifelong learning to maintain and acquire new skills.

As the aerospace and aviation industry, including defense and the aftermarket, recovers from the devastation of COVID-19, here is a closer look at some of the most significant engineering technologies and trends:

Electric Propulsion: To achieve sustainable air travel, multinational corporations and organizations are developing new electric propulsion systems. For instance, the ACCEL (Accelerating the Electrification of Flight) division of Rolls-Royce successfully launched the Spirit of Aviation electric plane. The 15-minute flight over England was powered by a 400-kW, 500+hp electric powertrain with the most power-dense battery pack ever assembled for an aircraft, according to Rolls Royce. Further, NASA continues to develop new technologies and aircraft in the United States through the numerous programs associated with its Electrified Aircraft Propulsion research. The agency collaborates with many innovative small businesses, including JOBY and Elctra.aero.

Space exploration requires a continuous stream of novel applications in computational engineering, combustion heat transfer, fluid mechanics and aerodynamics, design and production, robotics, materials, structural mechanics, control theory, and sensor technologies. Many new aircraft are being designed for the emerging regional and urban air mobility markets. The aircraft is constructed to reduce carbon emissions, engine noise, and takeoff distance.

New Materials: The aerospace industry strives for lighter, more robust components in aircraft bodies, fuselages, and engines. Once composed of up to 70 percent aluminum, aircraft can now contain as little as 20 percent. Aluminum has been gradually replaced by new composites and alloys, such as titanium, graphite, fiberglass, reinforced epoxy, and ceramics. In addition to being stronger and more rigid than aluminum, these materials resist corrosion and chemicals and maintain their properties under extreme conditions. Airbus also promotes the promise of new recyclable, cost-effective, lightweight biocomposites. These materials, derived from biomass, bio waste, plants, crops, and microorganisms, can be used alone or in conjunction with conventional materials such as carbon or glass fiber.

According to a recent report by Market Research Future, composites, which accounted for roughly fifty percent of the global aerospace market in 2018, will reach $30 billion by 2025. North America holds the largest share of the worldwide aerospace materials market, which will support a substantial number of engineering positions in the United States. 

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