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Multi-functional composites offer a possible solution to the conflicting design goals of making new aircraft lighter, stronger, faster, and more environmentally sustainable.

To survive within today's stringent economic environment, aircraft design, particularly military aircraft design, has been experiencing a paradigm shift from an emphasis on design for optimum performance to design for system effectiveness. As a consequence, designers and manufacturers are increasingly considering the addition of new technologies to aircraft design to reduce their cost, increase their operating capacities, and optimize new capabilities.

Design Freedom Variation in Time

For next generation aircraft design, there are many innovative technologies to be developed that are financially constrained. However, infusion of a new technology (or technologies) are leading to another challenge: how does this new technology affect the aircraft system both in capability and economically?

This is especially difficult because this new technology may not be completely defined until product implementation and service exposure occur. But in today's tight economic and limited resources environment, it is not possible to allow the designers to try out every technology on the aircraft system as this will result in low efficiency, time consumption, and cost ineffectiveness. This issue is leading to another question: how to select an appropriate technology for the aircraft system before committing to the expense and risk of its full development?

Obviously, it is essential to understand the benefits and/or penalties of a new technology to the system response before it is selected in order to reduce the research risk and budget. Therefore, designers need a forecasting environment which is able to rapidly assess the technical feasibility and economic viability for a given system before the technology is selected.

In addition, the life cycle phases of an aircraft design include conceptual, preliminary, detailed design, production, service and retirement, as shown in the accompanying figure. In the conceptual phase of the aircraft design, the design freedom is fully open for designers, yet only limited information is available for the new aircraft design. However, as design decisions are made, the design freedom rapidly decreases, while cost commitments increase. Therefore, the key to success is “making educated decisions (increased knowledge) early on and maintaining the ability to carry along a family of alternatives (design freedom)”.

In response, a new methodology process known as Technology Impact Forecasting (TIF) has emerged, which is able to rapidly assesses the technical feasibility and economic viability of a new technology for a given system before this technology has been selected, thereby giving direction to further resource allocation. This technique was developed about ten years ago and has mainly been applied to aircraft systems. TIF is a probabilistic method that not only emphasizes modelling and assessing the impact of technology infusion on a given baseline system, but also seeks to bring more knowledge about the system at an earlier stage of the design process. Although a solid background in initial TIF methods has been developed to mid Technology Readiness Levels (TRL), it has never been applied to extremely low TRL technologies. Therefore, one of the goals of this research will be to assess whether the TIF process can be applied to low TRL technologies, or even to a notional technology, and still provide useful guidance for decision-makers, or whether the process needs to be substantially modified in order to be useful.

This work was done by Danielle Soban of Queen's University Belfast for the Air Force Research Laboratory. AFRL-0280

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).

Technology Impact Forecasting for Multi-Functional Composites (reference AFRL-0280) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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