Access to safe, reliable power continues to be a key issue in aerospace (air and space) applications, a majority of which are safety- and mission-critical. In the past few years alone, the aerospace community has seen several disruptive events related to failing battery, power supply, power conversion, and power-management systems in commercial passenger jets (airliners), military jets, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, also known as drones, UAVs, and RPAS), spacecraft, including satellites, and more. Intelligent Aerospace editors talk power, including challenges and solutions, with Michael Stout, vice president of engineering at Falcon Electric Inc. in Irwindale, Calif.
Are electronic systems employed in aerospace and defense applications and platforms becoming increasingly power hungry?
It is often not the power demand that is the issue. Many aircraft and military power sources are 115 volts AC (VAC), 400Hz, single- and three-phase. Phase and frequency conversion are often required due to the increasing demand for commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) microprocessor-based equipment to be used in [aerospace and defense locations, including harsh environments].
Falcon’s unique double-conversion uninterruptible power supply (UPS) technology has been designed to meet these demands. We have models that can accept 200/115Vac, 45-450Hz, three-phase input power and provide 115V AC; 50-, 60-, or 400Hz; single-phase, computer-grade output power. The typical demand for these applications is from 500A to 5kVA.
What are aerospace and defense customers requesting when it comes to power/energy storage, such as batteries, fuel cells, etc.?What are current – and even future – requirements?
Backup requirements are varied, from hundreds of milliseconds to hours. One of our recent contracts was to supply a MIL-COTS (military commercial off-the-shelf) power system to be installed onboard Chinook helicopters.
The [Boeing CH-47] Chinook being an older technology has an unstable power system due to the requirement to manually switch between turbine power sources. The prime contractor’s equipment was sensitive to these switchovers.
Further, the Chinook provides 200/115VAC, 350-450Hz, three-phase power, while the contractor’s equipment demanded both single-phase, 115VAC and 1200VAC, 400Hz computer-grade power. Falcon easily redesigned a MIL-COTS power system using our patented technology to meet these requirements. As the switchover dropouts were in the hundreds of millisecond range, and due to weight requirements, we were able to design-in a large capacitor bank as our ride through current source.
For other long-term backup we use valve-regulated lead-acid battery (VRLA), Lithium-iron-phosphate, or powering from the dirtiest of gen-sets.
How are your company’s power solutions being used today and by whom?
Falcon presently supplies COTS and MIL-COTS grade UPS and power conversion systems to many prime contractors, as well as directly to the military. We are currently powering advanced communications vehicles presently used in-theater in Afghanistan. We also supply to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for use as voltage and frequency converters on their test jets.
Falcon’s systems are unique as they can accept any standard international power, military power, and on-vehicle gen-set power as well as provide 15kVA of fixed voltage and frequency computer-grade power to a large amount of communications and networking equipment.
What advice would you offer mil/aero engineers and engineering managers when selecting an energy storage technology or device?
Application drives most requirements. Don’t redesign the wheel; look to companies like Falcon to be a rapid source of MIL-compliant, rugged, and proven reliable source for requirements.
Many electronics engineers and systems integrators criticize the energy storage community for a perceived inability to deliver a lot of energy storage in a small form factor (opposed to low-capacity, large-size batteries) – which, they say, impedes innovation in many areas (small unmanned aircraft, wearable computers, etc.). How do you respond to critics who “blame the battery”?
With the new lithium battery technologies available, power density is much improved using these technologies. The power density of a rackmount, valve regulated lead-acid (VRLA) battery bank to power a 2100-watt load for 12 minutes would require a 3U height, 300+ pound battery bank. The same bank using lithium batteries, with the required battery management system and onboard charger would weigh under 50 pounds. However, the devil is in the details.
The VRLA battery bank can be shipped anywhere on this earth without encountering onerous and costly DOT/UN hazardous materials regulations and testing certifications, unlike lithium battery technologies.
Lithium battery technology is very expensive when compared to other technologies. It also requires advanced battery cell management electronics. These electronics continuously monitor the battery cells and manage their recharging and mandatory equalization. This can create problems as many military applications require the equipment be unused in a vehicle for long periods of time.
The battery management system and elevated storage temperatures can accelerate the self-discharge of lithium batteries requiring they be recharged every several months. If allowed to discharge beyond a manufacturer’s specified voltage level, the lithium cells will become permanently damaged, requiring costly replacement and service time.
Falcon Electric Inc. is a manufacturer of on-line Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS), frequency converters and ac voltage regulators. Founded over 25 years ago, Falcon introduced the first patented, high-frequency transformerless on-line UPS technology to the U.S. market.Customers such as Siemens, Alcoa, NASA, Raytheon, Xerox, L-3, Boeing, and the U.S. Military rely on Falcon's power solutions.
Falcon Electric's design, manufacturing, and technical expertise in field-proven, rugged industrial UPSs (-30°C to 65°C) help to solve power problems in some of the harshest environments on the planet, officials say. From protecting vital 911 response systems and transportation equipment to powering critical military systems, Falcon Electric solves complex power requirements that most companies are unable to accommodate. We offer the unique service of providing customers with direct access to our engineers and technical support staff to discuss specific requirements.
For more, visit Falconups.com: http://falconups.com/mil-cots-products.htm
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- The Power & Thermal Topic Center
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- Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)
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Relevant industry event: Embedded Real-Time Software and Systems
The ERTS² Congress (http://www.erts2016.org/about.html) is an international cross sector event on Embedded Real-Time Software and Systems for all the domains where embedded systems are central, including, but not limited to:
- aeronautics, as well as automotive, railway, subway, and marine
- satellite and space exploration
- telecommunications and wireless connectivity
- industrial control
- home automation, e-healthcare, and more