The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt – DLR) not only focusses on basic research but also primarily on application-oriented aeronautics research. The primary objective of DLR aeronautics research is to boost the competitiveness of the national and European aeronautics industry and aviation industry and to fulfill the demands set forth by government and society. DLR is addressing the challenges of making the rapidly growing air transport sector efficent, environmentally friendly and sustainable. DLR’s technology portfolio is based on the objectives of the European strategy paper “Flightpath 2050”, which superseded “Vision 2020” in 2011. The strategy paper describes the challenge of meeting societal and market’s needs, maintaining and extending European industrial leadership, protecting the environment and energy supply, as well as ensuring the safety and security of air traffic. Additionally, research prioritisation, testing capabilities and education are being addressed. Among other things, these objectives will result in the development of an air traffic management system suitable for 25 million flights per year in Europe, the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions per passenger kilometre by 75 per cent (90 per cent reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions), the lowering of the accident rate in European aviation to less than one per ten million commercial aircraft flights, as well as the possibility for 90 per cent of the European people to reach their favoured destination in merely four hours.
To achieve these European goals, the Advisory Council for Aviation Research and Innovation in Europe (ACARE) is developing a Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA), which will supersede the existing Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) in 2012. The SRIA will also influence DLR’s aviation strategy.
With its existing aeronautics institutions the major aeronautic sites are located in Braunschweig and Göttingen, participation in the German-Dutch Wind Tunnels (DNW) and in the European Transonic Windtunnel (ETW) as well as a fleet of research aircraft and helicopters, DLR possesses the capability to monitor the entire air transport system. DLR’s research on this subject includes land-based and airborne operations at airports, the aircraft as a highly complex system and flight management activities. A large part of the aeronautics research conducted by DLR is done at Niedersachsen locations Göttingen and Braunschweig. In Stade, one of two Research Centres for Lightweight Construction Production Technology (ZLP) is currently being established as an additional DLR-location in Niedersachsen.
Wind tunnels are an important factor in research for quieter aircraft or automobiles because they can be used to measure the aerodynamic and aeroacoustic properties of the tested objects. This is important in identifying sources of noise or measuring aerodynamic lift and stability. In December 2010, at the Braunschweig site, the DLR opened the most powerful wind tunnel in the world together with the DNW, which can be used for aircraft as well as for automobiles. In modern commercial aircraft, primarily the dominant main sources of noise creation are the focus of research, for example the engines, in addition to the landing flaps or the extended landing gear. Until now, minor sources of noise, which are still significant in their sum, could not be identified due to the intrinsic noise of the wind tunnel. This is now possible thanks to the new wind tunnel in Braunschweig. Disruptive sources of noise can be directly identified and thus excluded.
Flights with the flight simulator can even provide information on the use of the aircraft later on from the ground. In addition, DLR is planning a new simulator centre in Braunschweig, in an important step into the future of aeronautics research. The joint project between DLR and the TU Braunschweig is being incorporated into the existing infrastructure and will create unique possibilities in aeronautics research. This is where application research meets the universities’ academic approach to science. The centre’s core topic of research is the dynamic interaction between man and machine. Among other things, critical situations are also to be simulated, experimental campaigns prepared and studies on training efficiency conducted. Research on the effects of wakes, which are caused by aircraft flying ahead in air traffic, and the separation distances, which define airport capacity, is just one of many further important topics of research. Other research topics include examinations of active control elements, such as the further development of the so-called sidestick, which was introduced to commercial aviation by Airbus and which replaces the conventional control stick or the steering column of an aircraft. In addition, new cockpit display systems for helicopters are being tested to improve flight stability when transporting externally suspended loads as well as all-weather capabilities and landing in poor visibility.
Also focussing on noise prevention, experiments were conducted with a helicopter, which DLR carried out together with researchers from NASA in Göttingen. The greatest amount of noise created by a helicopter is generated by the rotor, which makes it possible to take off or land vertically. The rotor noise was the focus of the research – helicopters need to be made quieter in the future.Aside from aircraft, airports are also an additional focus of DLR’s research. Effectively managing airport processes is the equivalent of a logistical masterpiece: A growing number of passengers and freight want to be transported from one location to the next inexpensively and as quickly as possible. As a result, the hubs on the ground not only serve as hubs for air transport, but they are also the main gateway to other modes of transport. The airport as a system is being examined by DLR traffic researchers in Braunschweig together with partners from the German aerospace industry in an unprecedented approach. For the first time, a real-life and practice-oriented research project is being designed to develop a multi-modal land and air-travel oriented airport management system. TAMS (Total Airport Management Suite) aims at managing the activities of airport operators, airlines, air traffic control and other parties involved in the entire airport system more effectively in order to reduce process-related inefficiencies such as waiting periods and environmental burdens. Investigation at numerous European airports led to the conclusion that there is considerable room for improvement when all parties involved in flight operations better coordinate their actions. This not only reduces costs, but fewer delays and waiting periods can also significantly reduce environmental burdens. In addition, passengers have a better chance of making their connecting flights. The project is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology as a lighthouse project.
The author has a degree in aerospace technology from the Technical University of Berlin. He held various positions at Airbus for over 20 years, before assuming the position as a professor of aerospace engineering at the RWTH Aachen, where he headed the Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. In 2010, Prof. Henke became a member of the executive board of DLR, where he is responsible for aeronautics research.