Air Force

October 19, 2012

‘Vortex surfing’ could be revolutionary

The first C-17 flight tests employing “vortex surfing” were conducted at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Sept. 6 and Oct. 2, 2012. Surfing Aircraft Vortices for Energy, or $AVE, involves two or more aircraft flying together for a reduced drag effect to save fuel.

Migrating birds, NASCAR drivers and Tour de France bicyclists already get it. And now the Air Force is thinking about flying gas-guzzling cargo aircraft in formation–’dragging’ off one another–on long-haul flights across the oceans.

Flight tests with C-17s “vortex surfing” at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Sept. 6 and Oct. 2, have demonstrated potentially large savings of fuel and money by doing what geese do naturally. Tests show that flying in formation might be smarter than flying alone for Airmen, and not just for birds.

As one effort in the Air Force drive to reduce its overall fuel consumption, vortex surfing may be the wave of the future.

“The concept, formally known as Surfing Aircraft Vortices for Energy, or $AVE, involves two or more aircraft flying together for a reduced drag effect like what you see with a flock of geese,” said Dr. Donald Erbschloe, Air Mobility Command chief scientist.

A series of test flights involving two aircraft at a time, allowed the trailing aircraft to “surf” the vortex of the lead aircraft, positioning itself in the updraft to get additional lift without burning extra fuel.

Early indications from the tests promise a reduction of fuel consumption by up to ten percent for the duration of a flight. Over long distances and with even a small fraction of Air Mobility Command’s average of more than 80,000 flights a year, the fuel and cost savings could reach into the millions of dollars, experts say.

Next up: The Air Force Research Laboratory will analyze the data from for possible applications to other aircraft on a variety of missions.

Dr. Erbschloe said larger air mobility aircraft like the C-17 can fly in formations that are potentially easy to maintain and which do not require the planes to be exceptionally close together.

“The test flights were flown at longitudinal separations of 4,000 feet or greater,” said William Blake, one of the key developers of $AVE at the AFRL.

According to AFRL officials, modified C-17 Formation Flight System software enabled precise auto-pilot and auto-throttle systems to ensure the trailing aircraft achieved and maintained proper flight position without active assistance from pilots.

“The autopilot held the position extremely well – even close to the vortex,” said Capt. Zachary Schaffer, aircraft commander on one of the test flights. “The flight conditions were very safe; this was as hands-off as any current formation flying we do.”

Other pilots found differing levels of ride quality and discovered some flight test points might be difficult for long-endurance flights.

The view from a C-17 cockpit while trailing behind another C-17 during the first tests of “vortex surfing” at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Oct. 2, 2012. Early indications from the tests promise a reduction of fuel consumption by up to ten percent.

“The key will be finding the right balance of quality for improving fuel efficiency and ride,” said Maj. Eric Bippert, another aircraft commander on one of the test flights.

Bippert said being a part of the test program with so many talented engineers was a remarkable experience, and the concept could eventually impact global air transportation, overall.

“AMC has done really well with fuel efficiency at the operational level. The command has worked to gain efficiencies from the ‘low-hanging fruit’ such as optimizing flight routing, reducing weight where possible, and by not carrying excess fuel,” said Erbschloe. “$AVE offers significant efficiency gains, if employed in concert with these initiatives.”

He said early indications show the tests meet AMC criteria of the concept regarding safety and minimization of aircrew and aircraft strain while also being operationally sensible with a viable return on investment.

“AMC consumes 20 percent of the fuel used by the overall Federal government, so we’re constantly looking for pragmatic ways to improve our fuel efficiency,” said Erbschloe.

“Assured energy advantage for our Air Force is only possible through revolutionary energy initiatives like $AVE,” said Dr. Mark Maybury, Air Force chief scientist, upon hearing the results of the tests.

The $AVE concept was previously highlighted in the 2011 “Energy Horizons” study, sponsored by the Secretary of the Air Force and chaired by Maybury.

The tests were the culmination of an ongoing, combined effort between AMC; the AFRL; the 412th Test Wing; the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center; the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; the Boeing Company; and NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.

 

Editor’s Note: Holly Jordan, Air Force Research Laboratory, contributed to this report.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
F35

F-35 returns to limited flight, officials rule out Farnborough

Air Force photograph by Jet Fabara While the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter has returned to limited flying, it will not be appearing at the Farnborough International Airshow in the United Kingdom, Pentagon Press Secreta...
 
 

Air Force creates Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center

The Air Force is centralizing its installation support management within a newly created Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, Air Force officials announced July 14. The change resulted from a comprehensive effort to reduce overhead costs, increase efficiencies, eliminate redundant activities, improve effectiveness and business processes and will help meet the Department of Defense...
 
 

Air Force announces changes to headquarters organization

Air Force leaders announced changes to headquarters staff manning and organization July 14. The Air Force will create efficiencies by deactivating and realigning organizations at Headquarters Air Force, Major Commands, Numbered Air Forces and Field Operating Agencies, resulting in savings of $1.6 billion across the Air Force in the next five years. “I will work...
 

 

July 7 Pulse on AF force management

WASHINGTON – Featured in this force management update are details regarding civilian force management program expansions and ongoing officer early retirement and enlisted retention boards. Civilian force management – voluntary early retirement authority (VERA) /voluntary separation incentive pay (VSIP) The Air Force Personnel Center recently concluded the survey period for VERA/VSIP...
 
 

Airmen encouraged to review vRED

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -¬†When Airmen go through major changes in their life, such as marriage, a permanent change of station, or having a child, one of the first things that should come to mind is, “I have to update my Virtual Record of Emergency Data,” or vRED. While this is not always the...
 
 

The power of the Military Consumer

Due to the recent trends and the financial challenges of military life, the Department of Defense has teamed up with the Federal Trade Commission, who has partnered with other organizations to form the Military Consumer, a campaign to empower you the consumer to be informed and promote financial readiness. It officially starts July 16 and...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>