There are few other British industries that can claim to be as successful as our aerospace sector. With 17% global market share, the UK aerospace sector is the largest in Europe and second in the world after the USA. The sector generated £29bn in sales in 2010 and employs about 100,000 people throughout the country. The Government has stated on many occasions that it wants to move the UK away from its over-reliance on the finance and services industries and discussed the need to ‘rebalance the economy’. Aerospace is one of the key industries which could help achieve this.
The UK aerospace sector’s success is built on its reputation for high-quality product development, innovation, build and maintenance, all of which make companies such as Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems among the most recognised and respected brands in the world.
Yet our grip on the number two spot in the world is far from guaranteed over the next 20 years. Research and development investment is at an historic low and core capabilities, key facilities and infrastructure are all slowly eroding. If the UK does not create an economic vision for the future, we may well see one of our most important
industries fall into decline – like so many other sectors of British manufacturing over the past two decades.
Over the next 20 years the airline industry is predicted to order over 25,000 new aircraft with a market value in excess of $3 trillion. With limited growth in Europe and North America predicted, it will be the rapid expansion of domestic routes in Asia and South America which will drive demand.
The growth of global air travel will be matched by increasing levels of legislation on emissions and noise, and a desire to reduce fuel consumption while carrying ever more people by aeroplane.
If the UK can maintain its global standing as a leading aerospace innovator, the country could be leading the next generation of greener and cleaner aeroplanes, providing greater comfort and affordability to airlines and passengers alike.
In order to make this happen the Institution calls for Government and industry:
• to set out a long-term strategic vision for investing in the UK’s aerospace sector as it is vital to the UK’s economic recovery.
• to establish a UK Advanced Technologies Aerospace Research Centre.
• to ensure UK PLC is an attractive investment location and restore research and development funding to pre-recession levels.
This report forms part of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers' Engineered in Britain campaign to promote the value and benefits of a growing British engineering and manufacturing sector.
Download Part 1 of the report.
Aerospace engineers must navigate a turbulent zone where technology and economics combine to compete with physics. Aerospace research calls and competitions produce ever more ingenious ideas for aircraft design and technology.
This section of the report focuses on a selection of developments that do have the technological and initial research impetus to turn them into real-world alternatives for the airline industry.
The examples described in the report are largely US-led but, crucially, the UK currently has world-leading expertise relevant to them.
If the UK is to maintain its position as the world’s number two aerospace sector, it needs to be an attractive technology hub for the sector. The technologies involved in taking these aircraft into production hold the long-term key to our future commercial success.
The concepts can be split into the following groups:
Subsonic technologies - those that travel slower than the speed of sound - include blended wing body design, where the wing blends smoothly with the plane’s wide tail-less fuselage thus making the plane more efficient and less noisy; NASA's N+3 program to develop aircraft that meet specific energy, efficiency, environmental and operation goals; as well as projects like MIT's 'Double Bubble' aircraft, where two aircraft bodies are fused together.
Supersonic technologies, so those that travel faster than the speed of sound, include Boeing and Lockheed Martin's N+3 concepts for aircraft that carry more than 100 passengers at cruise speeds of more than Mach 1.6 and a range of up to 5,000 miles.
Hypersonic technologies, that travel more than five times the speed of sound, include scramjets developed by the likes of NASA, Pratt & Witney and QinetiQ.
Commercial Aircraft could be configured in a V-shaped, echelon formation with following aircraft when at cruise, giving them a drag reduction and lift advantage from the airflow generated by the aircraft in front.
Download Part 2 of the report.