Canada's aerospace industry is vibrant, with a rich history and elite reputation on the global stage. The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) has proudly played a large part over its 100-year existence, developing solutions and stimulating growth for the industry.
From inventing the precursor to the "black box," to enhancing flight safety in ice conditions, learn how the NRC played an important role in supporting innovation in civil aviation over the past century, helping realize a safer and better flight experience for all.
Making aviation safer with NRC icing research
The In-Cloud ICing and Large-drop Experiment (ICICLE) mission flew into precipitation and ice‑prone clouds in the western Great Lakes region for over 100 hours in winter 2019. Over a 6-week period, a team of researchers from the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Environment and Climate Change Canada flew 30 data-collecting flights in one of North America's most ice‑prone areas, seeking out supercooled large drops–freezing rain and freezing drizzle – and collecting information about the environments in which they occur.
Injecting innovation into fuel nozzle manufacturing
Fuel injectors play a key role in aero‑derived industrial engines, but manufacturing these multi‑part components is labour intensive and has a high rate of rejection. Siemens Canada approached the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) with a concept for a highly integrated additive manufacturing fuel nozzle with far fewer parts than traditional nozzles. This innovative new concept had the potential to make the manufacturing more efficient, but did not yet meet the tolerances needed for the rigours of air travel.
The NRC's cross‑disciplinary team of experts supported Siemens' development of fuel injector manufacturing processes and their functional validation. Using NRC experimental laboratories, the precision of the nozzle's 5‑axes manufacturing process was improved, and a technique for welding dissimilar materials and forms was devised. These innovations helped take the nozzle from the concept stage to the early stages of production.
The NRC also conducted crucial validation tests to prove functionality and component life, so that Siemens could confidently introduce the new additively manufactured parts into service.
Siemens Canada views the NRC as a strategic partner in terms of manufacturing and testing, especially for our combustion development.
Reducing aircraft noise
The 1960s and 1970s, concerns about noisy air traffic conflicted with residential developments near airports. Growing demand for air travel meant serious housing and real estate problems.
NRC scientists investigated the effects of airport noise on nearby residents. That work led to innovative software for insulation design, used by architects and builders to reduce aircraft noise. The software incorporates the acoustic properties of construction materials with indoor sound measurements for buildings exposed to aircraft noise. This assesses the effects of changing a building location and construction details for the comfort of residents. By modifying one of NRC's wind tunnels to measure sound created by air rushing over airplane parts, such as landing gear, researchers also examined noise emitted by specific parts.
Today, aircraft engine manufacturers come to the NRC to ensure that their engines will operate within noise and vibration limits. The NRC also uses computer modelling to predict sound levels inside aircraft. Additionally, the NRC has contributed to reducing problems caused by noise levels at airports, and permitted better planning for airport extensions, new aircraft and changing air‑traffic patterns.
Anticipating the aerial mobility of the future
Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) will radically transform our cities – alleviating traffic and accelerating mobility. But this vision of the future isn't without its challenges, both aerodynamically and acoustically.
The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) worked with Bell Helicopters to overcome some of these challenges by evaluating the acoustics of Bell's ducted axial fan, a part of the air taxi propulsion system that enables transition from a vertical takeoff or landing in to forward flight.
Noise standards for air taxis are still under development, and regulations have not yet been finalized, but Bell is aiming to limit air taxi noise to 62dBA at an elevation of 250 feet (76m).
The NRC used its 9 Metre Wind Tunnel to conduct full-scale testing and evaluation of the fan, measuring its aerodynamics and acoustics at different airspeeds, geometries, angles of attack and rotor blade pitch angles. Results from the wind tunnel environment were correlated to free-air conditions.
New technologies create new challenges, and the NRC has more than 300 technical experts who can help companies overcome the hurdles they face in developing, testing and certifying new technologies.
A new 'eye in the sky' is revealing hidden features on Earth
NRC‑developed hyperspectral imaging technology monitors invasive species, pipelines and more.
Hyperspectral imaging technology developed at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) is using visible and short-wave infrared spectrum to map properties invisible to the human eye. Developed in partnership with McGill University, the UAV‑μCASI system attaches to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to perform low‑altitude monitoring.
The UAV-uCASI capture very small pixels (<5cm), and it provides detailed enough information on plant characteristics to enable it to map rare and threatened species, and to detect invasive species.
It also has commercial applications. The larger CASI sensor can be installed in an airborne system and has been used to monitor pipeline seepage, which saves companies money, and mitigates environmental damage.
The Applied Remote Sensing Lab's collaboration with the NRC's hyperspectral group has unlocked new possibilities in environmental applications and become leaders in drone‑based research.
Inventing the crash position indicator
Searching for a downed plane in a remote area, especially Canada's far north, without a distress signal is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The best experimental crash position system needed too many parts: a parachute, a shock absorber, an external extendable antenna, two orienting arms and a flotation bag.
In the 1940s, legendary NRC engineer Harry Stevinson invented a device with no moving parts but containing a transmitter, antenna and delivery system in one tiny package. If mounted externally on the plane with a spring‑loaded mechanism that released on impact, the new crash position indicator would lift to a safe distance. Stevinson designed a protective skin and a shock absorber that was tough but transparent to radio waves. An antenna transmitted a signal, regardless of orientation to the Earth's surface. The device could float, was fire resistant and was eventually manufactured by Leigh Instruments, near Ottawa.
Today, the famed "black box" incorporates a flight recorder and is a permanent fixture on commercial aircraft all around the world. The NRC later developed further expertise in retrieving data from damaged flight recorders.
Flying by wire
In 2003, the NRC was recognized for its innovative work in the development of fly‑by‑wire (FBW) helicopters, which were initially created in 1960 in its FBW laboratory. The technology enables pilots to focus on other mission‑related tasks while guidance is safely controlled through electronic signals and computer systems.
Scientists tested this technology using a modified the NRC Bell helicopter as the airborne flight simulator. The NRC has since developed successive generations of FBWs and now operates one of the world's most advanced flight training centres.
Improving the eyes in the sky
Bush plane exploration pushed north in the 1930s as the map of Canada began to require more detail. In response, the NRC played a major role in developing efficient and effective aerial survey equipment that allowed detailed mapping and a rich inventory of natural resources.
After many tests, including the use of advanced wind tunnel facilities, NRC research dramatically increased the stability and aeronautics of aerial camera attachments. The NRC's designs gave bush pilots better tools to identify objects from the air and fill in the map of Canada.
The De Havilland Beaver
Marked by lakes, mountains, permafrost and forests, Canada's North cannot accommodate conventional runways. Yet, pilots shuttle necessary supplies and even people to those remote areas. So, pilots requested a safe aircraft capable of quickly landing on and taking off from water, snow and land hemmed in by trees and rock faces.
In 1947, de Havilland Canada unveiled its DHC‑2 Beaver, a short-take-off-and-landing (STOL) aircraft. By 1948, production versions materialized. The versatile Beaver exceeded pilot needs in the air, on floats and on wheels, but Ontario's Air Service asked the NRC to improve the Beaver's skis. NRC engineers triumphed with lighter, more aerodynamic skis that adhered less to ice. Soon, the engineers' expanded role included performance and wind‑tunnel tests, wing designs, engine modifications and STOL enhancements for the Beaver and its descendants—the Otter and Twin Otter.
More than half a century later, pilots revere and pay heftily for the hundreds of Beavers and Otters still actively flown in demanding environments worldwide. At 1 692 produced, Beavers set a Canadian aircraft manufacturing record and launched the nation's STOL industry.