Comparison of component weights of the tempest test vehicle, initial two-spar wing model, and improved tempest FEM.
The Multifunctional Structures for High Energy Lightweight Load-bearing Storage (M-SHELLS) research project goals were to develop M-SHELLS, integrate them into the structure, and conduct flight tests onboard a remotely piloted small aircraft. Experimental M-SHELLS energy-storing coupons were fabricated and tested for their electrical and mechanical properties. In this chapter, finite element model development and structural analyses of two small test aircraft candidates are presented. The component weight analysis from the finite element model and test measurements were correlated. Structural analysis results with multifunctional energy storage panels in the fuselage of the test vehicle are presented. The results indicate that the mid-fuselage floor composite panel could provide structural integrity with minimal weight penalty while supplying electrical energy. Structural analyses of the NASA X-57 Maxwell electric aircraft and an advanced aircraft fuselage structure are also presented for potential application of M-SHELLS. Secondary aluminum structure in the fuselage subfloor and cargo area are partially replaced with reinforced five-layer composite panels with M-SHELLS honeycomb core. The fuselage weight reduction associated with each design without risking structural integrity are described. The structural analysis and weight estimation with composite M-SHELLS panels in the fuselage floor indicates 3.2% structural weight reduction, but with increased stress.
- advanced composite
- multifunctional structure
- green aviation
- electric flight vehicle design
- finite element analysis
- honeycomb panel
- electrical energy storage
- structural weight estimation and reduction
- aircraft design
For sustainable green aviation, the innovative electric flight vehicle structures should be lighter, yet safer than the existing technology can offer, in order to reduce the overall weight and subsequently fuel consumption and emission. This chapter describes structural design of advanced electric flight vehicle concepts, which are potential candidates to meet some of the environmental friendly performance goals. Under the NASA Aeronautics Research, Convergent Aeronautical Solution Program, Glenn Research Center (GRC) has been leading Multifunctional Structures for High Energy Lightweight Load-bearing Storage (M-SHELLS) research. The technology of integrating load-carrying structures with electrical energy storage capacity has the potential to reduce the overall weight of future electric aircraft. Langley Research Center (LaRC) along with GRC fabricated and tested lightweight, laminated honeycomb composites with special anode, cathode, and separator materials that are dually capable of generating electrical power and carrying mechanical loads. Storing and releasing electrical energy with hybrid super-capacitors combined with advanced composite structures has the potential to reduce both the charging time and overall weight. Krause and Loyselle  at GRC proposed developing, analyzing, and testing this multifunctional structures technology. The Materials and Electro-chemistry Division at GRC has conducted extensive research on multifunctional structural composites that are capable of generating electrical power and carrying mechanical loads.
Figure 1 shows a roadmap of the multifunctional structures technology development and systems analysis . At GRC, advanced multifunctional composite laminate and hybrid super-capacitor energy storage systems are being developed. Numerical models of electrochemical reactions and energy storage concepts are also being developed at GRC. Newman  presented the specific energy and specific power characteristics of existing fuel cell and battery technologies and conventional energy sources in the Ragone plot (Figure 1a). The initial performance goal for the M-SHELLS system was to demonstrate a specific energy of 75 Wh/kg at a specific power of 1000 W/kg. These modest M-SHELLS specific energy and power targets are also shown in Figure 1a. An expanded view of the Ragone plot is shown in Figure 2 for additional discussion. The honeycomb sandwich structure for the M-SHELLS concept is shown in Figure 1b. Specimens were fabricated and tested in the structures concept laboratory at GRC and LaRC to characterize both the electrochemical and mechanical properties. Figure 1c shows one tensile test result of an initial single layer experimental M-SHELLS honeycomb specimen.
The remotely piloted small airplane, named
Figure 1e shows the NASA X-57 Maxwell experimental test aircraft concept  with a distributed electric propulsion system that has 12 electric-motor-driven propellers on the high-lift wing. The synchronized motors are powered by a 358 kg battery pack. Presently, construction of the X-57 Maxwell test vehicle is occurring under the Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology Operational Research (SCEPTOR) project. The X-57 Maxwell vehicle will test the performance of this specially designed wing with distributed electric propulsion to evaluate mission benefits for this class of vehicle. Structural analysis of the fuselage floor modeled with a reinforced M-SHELLS composite panel is briefly described.
As a final application, structural and aircraft systems analysis for the NASA N+3 Technology Conventional Configuration (N3CC) derivative with hybrid-electric propulsion (Figure 1f) were conducted by Olson and Ozoroski  in order to predict the multifunctional performance and weight benefits of the M-SHELLS technology (Figure 1g). In this report, secondary aluminum structure in the N3CC fuselage sub-floor and cargo area are partially replaced with M-SHELLS composite panels for structural stress and weight analysis.
Newman  presented an extensive feasibility and design study of a small, manned aircraft with electric powered propulsion. His report included the range of specific energy and specific power characteristics for existing Lithium-based batteries, Proton-Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells (PEMFC), Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC), and aviation fuel. Figure 2 is his summary plot of the specific power and energy specifications, which is often referred to as a Ragone plot. Newman concluded that, besides conventional combustion, PEMFC and SOFC were the only two feasible energy source devices given the selected set of mission and aerodynamic (weight and power) constraints and the design specifications for his project. The initial performance goal for the M-SHELLS battery system was to demonstrate a specific energy of 75 Wh/kg at a specific power of 1000 W/kg. These M-SHELLS energy and power targets are superimposed on Newman’s plot in Figure 2. While this target is modest compared to Li-Ion, Li-Fe, and Li-S based batteries, the main advantage of the M-SHELLS technology is that it could replace part of the load bearing structure, particularly in small drones and in lightly loaded fuselage structure of experimental electric aircraft such as the X-57 Maxwell.
2. M-SHELLS coupon test
The proposed M-SHELLS research goals were to develop test specimens and subcomponents, integrate them into a small test vehicle structure, and conduct low-risk flight tests. The M-SHELLS test coupons in the form of honeycomb panels were fabricated and tested by Russell Smith (LaRC) and Brett Bednarcyk (GRC) for mechanical and electrical properties. Figure 3 shows the normal compression load shakedown test of a small, stabilized aluminum honeycomb coupon fabricated for mechanical property assessment. The compressive crushing strength and compressive modulus were computed and compared with the published characteristics of a Hexcel 1/4-5052-0.002 honeycomb. The flatwise compression modulus of the aluminum honeycomb coupon with 1/4-inch cell and 0.002-inch foil thickness is 139,000 psi and the crushing strength is 436 psi. The published in-plane shear modulus of the Hexcel 1/4-5052-0.002 honeycomb is 66,000 psi and the shear strength is 300 psi in the length direction. In the width direction, the in-plane shear modulus is 30,000 psi and the shear strength is 120 psi. Since the normal compression strength test result and Hexcel published data were very close, the mechanical properties of Hexcel honeycomb were used by Olson and Ozoroski  for the initial structural and multifunctional performance benefit analysis of the N3CC derivative with hybrid-electric propulsion. They also accounted for the additional weight of core material required to complete the energy storage functionality.
Figure 4 shows the in-plane tensile load versus extension plot from an initial tensile test of an early M-SHELLS active coupon prototype with anode/cathode elements and electrolytes. The honeycomb test coupon dimensions were 6.0 inch (150 mm) in length, 2.0 inch (50.8 mm) in width, and 1.0 inch (25.4 mm) in depth. The face-sheets were 0.002 inch thin aluminum foil. The electrical tests were conducted at NASA Glenn Research Center. Considering only the linear part of the deformation, a 90 lb (400 N) load produces an extension of 0.6 mm. Thus, relative to the unloaded specimen, the linear elastic strain was 0.004 at the 90 lb (400 N) load. The specimen yielded beyond the 400 N load and developed a crack at 480 N. The linear Young’s modulus (stress/strain) was computed to be 11,188 psi (77.52 × 106 N/m2). The corresponding in-plane shear modulus was 4024 psi for the Poisson’s ratio of 0.39. The in-plane tensile and shear modulus computed from the coupon test results were very low for flight application. Hence, for the present analysis, additional outer face-sheets were added on each side to add strength to the honeycomb core (Figure 1b). Several detailed finite element models (FEM) of three flight vehicles were developed having certain fuselage areas replaced with this reinforced composite panel having a honeycomb core. Structural analyses of these models are described. The complete summary of all material properties used in this chapter are presented in Appendix A. The M-SHELLS panel design properties and computed density are presented in Appendix B.
3. Flight test vehicle structural model development
Initially, several low-cost, small model aircraft were considered for finite element analysis and simulation, with multifunctional lightweight composite panels replacing part of the wing and fuselage structure. A remotely piloted small aircraft was selected with a 127 inch wingspan and a takeoff weight of 16 lb. Adequate details about the internal structure and fabrication of this model airplane were not known, so a notional FEM of this small aircraft was quickly developed for initial structural analysis with design flight loads. Figure 5 shows a preliminary structural model development of a similarly sized small hobby model airplane, which offered an initial low-risk candidate for flight testing of the M-SHELLS specimen. A typical wing FEM with a standard two-spar and rib configuration was initially developed. This structural arrangement would enable easy integration of small test coupons, between the two spars in the inboard section, close to the electric motor in the fuselage nose. The test specimen could also be integrated into the fuselage floor.
Figure 6 shows the wing deflection and strain distribution from initial structural analysis of the wing in level flight. The analysis assumed front and rear spar thicknesses of 0.15 inch with advanced composite material properties . The linear elastic property values used for the front and rear spar are as follows: Young’s modulus 9,750,000 psi, shear modulus 2,570,000 psi, and mass density 0.06 lb/in3. The wing, fuselage, horizontal tail, and vertical tail skin thicknesses were 0.04 inch and were made of standard thermoplastic material. The linear elastic properties are as follows: Young’s modulus 290,075 psi, shear modulus 47,250 psi, and mass density 0.04 lb/in3. The wing deflections and skin strain distributions shown are with a fixed wing root and a 16 lb lift load, distributed elliptically along the wing. The maximum deflection and nodal strain were 1.95 inches at the wing tip and 0.00106 at the wing root, respectively. With this two-spar wing construction, the maximum wing-tip deflection and strain values at level cruise flight were considered high for a model airplane. The two-spar wing FEM weight was calculated to be 4.63 lb. The fuselage weight, with empennage, was calculated to be 3.8 lb.
When NASA Langley acquired two UASUSA-manufactured remotely piloted aircraft named “Tempest” for the planned flight test, additional information on the internal construction of the physical model was available. A
Upon close examination of the model with the canopy removed, it was observed that the
The horizontal tail skin and ribs were modeled as 0.02 inch thin molded thermoplastic. The fuselage and vertical tail skins and ribs were modeled with 0.04 inch thin thermoplastic. The horizontal and vertical tail twin-spar thicknesses were 0.10 inch and 0.15 inch, respectively. Figure 9 shows the wing deflection and nodal strain distributions from the FEM analysis with level flight load, assuming a 16 lb takeoff gross weight. See Appendix A for all the material elastic properties and density used in this chapter. With the improved FEM of the wing structure, the wing-tip deflection was 1.11 inch and the maximum strain at the wing root was 0.00067. The strain values were noted to be well within the allowable limits. The wing-tip deflection was closer to the experimental results than the preliminary FEM analysis results with the two-spar wing (Figure 6). This improved FEM analysis result was considered satisfactory for the structural component weight estimation.
Table 1 shows the measured component weights of the test vehicle and estimated weight for the initial two-spar wing model and the improved model of the
The performance goal for the M-SHELLS development was to demonstrate a specific power of 1000 W/kg at an energy density of 75 Wh/kg. The flight test goal was to augment the existing Li-Po battery with 33% of the required energy for 30 minutes of flight or, equivalently, to supply the full electrical energy for 10 minutes of level flight. The Li-Po battery capacity is 7600 mAh and it provides 7.4 volts with two 3.7 volt cells in series. With a gross weight of 2.3 lb (1.04 kg), the energy density of the Li-Po battery is 55 Wh/kg. The ideal power required by the aircraft at cruise is computed from weight × velocity/(L/D), where L/D is the lift-to-drag ratio. Considering the propeller and motor efficiencies, the total power required to be supplied to the electric motor spinning the propeller is:
The structural deflection and nodal strain distribution from the FEM analysis results of the
4. NASA X-57 Maxwell test vehicle
Under the Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology Operational Research (SCEPTOR) project, the X-57 Maxwell test vehicle wing is presently being constructed at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center. Figure 1e showed the NASA X-57 Maxwell experimental test aircraft concept  with a distributed electric propulsion system featuring 12 electric-motor-driven propellers on an innovative high-lift wing. The X-57 Maxwell vehicle will test the performance of this specially designed wing with distributed electric propulsion in order to evaluate mission benefits for this class of vehicle.
Figure 11 shows the weight breakdown of the NASA X-57 Maxwell experimental test aircraft. The original wing of the Italian
Figure 12 shows initial power requirement estimates for the standard mission of the X-57 Maxwell  flight test vehicle. The energy requirement for each phase of the mission is obtained by integrating the power requirement over time (area under the power requirement curve). For example, during the cruise time interval of 800 seconds (0.22 hours), at constant power the energy required is 120 × 0.22 = 26.4 kWh with the X-57 wing (blue line). Based on the current mission analysis utilizing the original
Assuming M-SHELLS could produce 1000 W/kg specific power at a 75 Wh/kg specific energy, a 120 kg M-SHELLS package would ideally provide 120 kW of power and 9 kWh of energy. Given the 120 kW of power required during cruise with the X-57 wing (blue line), the M-SHELLS package could supply energy for a duration of 0.075 hours, or 270 seconds, at level cruise.
A brief structural analysis of the fuselage was conducted, where a reinforced M-SHELLS multifunctional panel can be safely substituted to partially replace the lightly loaded aluminum floor structure. Figure 13 shows an example of fuselage floor deflection and shear stress with the original floor replaced by a reinforced composite panel with the M-SHELLS core. The five-layer composite sandwich panel consisted of two 0.05 inch thermoplastic sheets for reinforcement and insulation on the outer faces, which were bonded to the two 0.002 inch aluminum sheets on the inner faces over the 1.0 inch deep M-SHELLS core. For this example, the total distributed floor load is 265 lb (120 kg) distributed over the forward fuselage floor area. The fuselage floor deflection is nominal and the majority of the shear stresses across all plies are generally within the allowable limits except at the end support areas, where local reinforcements will be needed.
5. Hybrid-electric aircraft
In the ARMD Advanced Air Transport Technology (AATT) project, several aircraft concepts are presently being studied to quantify the performance improvements and emissions reduction afforded by hybrid-electric propulsion. Jansen et al.  have conducted extensive systems analysis to evaluate the risks and benefits of a conversion from an all-fuel turbofan to a hybrid-electric turbofan engine concept. Among the propulsion options considered by this study, the “hFan” concept is a gas turbine-electric hybrid engine capable of operating in all-gas turbine, all-electric, or combined mode, depending on mission requirements. Conventional and truss-braced wing concepts with hybrid-electric propulsion were also investigated by Bradley and Droney [8, 9] at the Boeing Company.
Objectives of the NASA Electrified Aircraft Propulsion (EAP) research are to increase fuel efficiency and to reduce the emissions and noise levels of commercial transport aircraft. Primary EAP propulsion concepts include turboelectric, partially turboelectric, and hybrid-electric systems. Applications are presently being evaluated for regional jet and larger sized single-aisle aircraft. The overall goal is to demonstrate the viability of at least one of the EAP concepts. A hybrid-electric derivative of the N+3 technology conventional configuration (N3CC) is an ideal candidate for future applications of the M-SHELLS technology, by replacing lightly loaded portions of the fuselage structures where use of lightweight honeycomb panel is possible. The outer mold line (OML) of this aircraft concept  was developed using the Open Vehicle Sketch Pad tool [10, 11]. The internal structure of a fuselage segment of this vehicle was developed using SolidWorks  for finite element analysis. The structural analysis included a combination of aluminum and reinforced M-SHELLS composite panels for stress, deflection, and weight estimation. A block diagram of the FEM development and sizing process is presented in Appendix C.
Figure 14a shows the N3CC vehicle model with internal structure, and the detailed FEM of a fuselage segment is shown in Figure 14b. The fuselage section design loads consist of an internal cabin pressure of 18.4 psi, passenger floor load of 1 psi, and cargo floor load of 2 psi. The weight analysis of the N3CC hybrid concept fuselage segment with Al 7075-T6 construction is shown in Table 2. The total FEM weight of this all-aluminum fuselage segment is 4992 lb. This includes a passenger floor weight of 876 lb, an outer shell weight of 3461 lb, a cargo floor weight of 342 lb, and the total keel-beam and cross-beam weight of 313 lb. Figure 14c shows the all-aluminum fuselage deflection and Figure 14d shows the von Mises stress distribution.
Figure 15 shows the modified fuselage section in which the passenger and cargo subfloor cross-beams were replaced with the five-layer reinforced composite panels with honeycomb core (5LCHC). The sandwich panels consisted of 1 inch deep M-SHELLS honeycomb core and 0.002 inch aluminum ply and 0.05 inch thermoplastic ply on each side. Figure 15a shows the N3CC fuselage model and design load. As before, the fuselage section design loads consisted of an internal cabin pressure of 18.4 psi, passenger floor load of 1 psi, and cargo floor load of 2 psi. The passenger subfloor and cargo subfloor cross-beams are now replaced with this five-layer bonded composite panel with M-SHELLS honeycomb core (Figure 15b). Figure 15c shows a significant increase in the maximum floor deflection compared to the all-aluminum construction shown in Figure 14c. Figure 15d shows maximum von Mises stress distribution across all ply, which are significantly higher locally in the passenger sub-floor cross-beam.
The weight analysis of the N3CC hybrid concept fuselage segment with aluminum and M-SHELLS composite panels is shown in Table 3. The total FEM weight of this fuselage segment is 4830 lb. The passenger floor weight is reduced to 728 lb from 876 lb for the previous case. The aluminum outer shell weight remains 3461 lb. The cargo floor weight is reduced to 328 lb from 342 lb. The total keel-beam and cross-beam weight remains 313 lb. Thus, the weight reduction for one fuselage segment is 162 lb or 3.2%, at the cost of higher fuselage deflection and stress, but without risking the structural integrity (Figure 15c and d).
Since this substitution resulted in large increases in deflection and stress in the passenger floor (Figure 15c and d), additional sub-floor support in the cargo hold area was examined as shown in Figure 16a and b. The corresponding structural deflection and stress distribution are shown in Figure 16c and d. The maximum deflection was reduced significantly and the von Mises stress distributions were within the allowable limits. The additional M-SHELLS weight was 173.5 lb. Hence, the net weight increase was 11.5 lb (0.3%) per segment, compared to all aluminum construction, while adding 56 cubic foot of M-SHELLS storage volume. The fuselage section weight comparison summary from the three designs is presented in Figure 17.
These weight calculations with the reinforced M-SHELLS panel did not include copper current collectors, separator layers, and electrolyte that are required to complete the energy storage functionality but do not add to the structural strength. Appendix B shows the M-SHELLS panel density and properties. A full vehicle structural and systems analysis for the N3CC derivative with hybrid-electric propulsion was presented by Olson and Ozoroski  to predict the multifunctional performance and weight benefits with higher specific energy M-SHELLS replacing major primary structure. Their study showed that by offsetting the weight of some of the vehicle’s primary batteries or mission fuel, an overall weight savings can be achieved through multifunctionality. An initial version of the paper was proposed for presentation in .
6. Concluding remarks
The Multifunctional Structures for High Energy Lightweight Load-bearing Storage (M-SHELLS) research project is described. The proposed project goals were to develop M-SHELLS in the form of honeycomb coupons and subcomponents, integrate them into the structure, and conduct low-risk flight tests onboard a remotely piloted small aircraft. The M-SHELLS sample units were scheduled for flight testing onboard a remotely piloted small aircraft named
The NASA X-57 Maxwell distributed electric propulsion test vehicle was used as an example for potential application of the M-SHELLS technology. The fuselage floor structure was selected for substituting a reinforced composite panel with M-SHELLS core. A structural analysis of the fuselage floor indicated that it could self-support a 265 lb (120 kg) M-SHELLS system, providing sufficient power and energy for 270 seconds of cruise flight. The fuselage floor deflection is nominal and the majority of the shear stresses are generally within the allowable limits. For future applications of M-SHELLS, structural analysis of an advanced transport aircraft fuselage segment is presented. Secondary aluminum structure in the fuselage sub-floor and cargo area were replaced with reinforced composite panels with M-SHELLS honeycomb core. Fuselage structural analyses associated with three cases were described. The weight estimation with the reinforced composite M-SHELLS panels replacing the passenger sub-floor indicated a 3.2% reduction in fuselage weight, at the cost of higher deflection and stresses, but without risking the structural integrity. With additional M-SHELLS panels in the cargo hold area, the deflection and stresses were reduced. But, the net weight of the fuselage segment increased by 11.5 lb (0.3%) compared to all aluminum construction, while adding 56 cubic foot of M-SHELLS volume and ~22 kWh of energy capacity/segment. These weight calculations were with the reinforced M-SHELLS panel with 11.9 lb/ft3 density. This calculation did not include reactive materials that are required to complete the energy storage functionality.
The authors thank the NASA Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program (TACP), directed by Dr. John Cavolowsky for funding this research. The M-SHELLS sub-project is part of the Convergent Aeronautical Solutions (CAS) project under the TACP Program. CAS is directed by Isaac Lopez, Project Manager, Marty Waszak, Deputy Project Manager and Daniel Williams, CAS Liaison Officer at Langley. We thank Dr. Nicholas Borer, Jeff Viken, and the X-57 Maxwell Systems Analysis and Integration team for their guidance. Thanks are also due to Kevin Roscoe, Greg Howland, David A. Hare, Luke Laub, David Klassman, and Frank Leone for performing the