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UKRI Future Flight Challenge launched

The UK government research agency, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), are launching the Future Flight Challenge. The programme’s ambitious aim is to develop systems to demonstrate multiple electric aircraft of different classes flying together at Farnborough 2024.

Pulled from Future Flight Challenge’s website – literally blue sky thinking…

During a conference call on 6th September 2019, Challenge Director Gary Cutts outlined the programme’s context and goals, described how companies, start-ups, research organisations, catapults, universities and others in the UK and overseas could get involved, what funding was available, and set the Farnborough target.

Cutts described a future scenario of new aviation markets and services building on today’s aerospace sector rather than cannibalising it. These services will be worth £ billions, and the UK government wants to help UK industry capture a decent share of them. The Future Flight Challenge is one aspect of that assistance (some others being the Faraday Challenge for batteries, and the APC 6th spoke on Power Electronics and Electric Motors), and is perhaps the over-arching one which will hopefully bring all the different technologies and ideas together.

The challenge will pioneer technologies to enable electric flight, and is a deliberately wide-ranging challenge due to the huge opportunities available. It will work in the context of a ‘whole system’, not just focussed on the aircraft or on-board systems, but including ground facilities, airframe configuration, public engagement, aircraft / airspace integration, etc. Safety is a key driver, it being stressed that the introduction of a new class of aircraft (UAM) shouldn’t adversely affect existing aerospace safety numbers. But another is economics – whatever comes out of the challenge has to have a realistic chance of generating a profit.

The programme also aims to develop ideas which could help with public acceptance of aircraft ‘whirling round people’s heads’ . They have already engaged with the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and are keen to to see urban planners and social scientists involved in consortia to look at addressing public concerns such as noise, emissions, hazard avoidance, etc.

The progamme will look at systems across or involving three classes of aircraft:

  • drones
  • short distance UAM for 2-4 pax
  • regional electric / hybrid electric aircraft

It’s a £125 M programme with a rough timetable of

  • 2019/2020 – discover ideas and partners, form consortia
  • 2020/2021 – develop consortia and projects
  • 2021 – 2024 – deliver and demonstrate a fully integrated system with multiple classes of aircraft in live airspace

There are two competitions to join the programme:

  • 1st apply by 30 September 2019
  • 2nd apply by 4th April 2020

Individual organisations or companies as well as collaborative projects are welcome to apply, as there will be some inital efforts to build consortia.

Want to know more? Contact:

  • gary.cutts @innovateuk.ukri.org
  • ruth.mallors-ray@innovateuk.ukri.org

Opinion

This should be a fascinating programme to watch, being an integrator programme aiming to bring together many different systems and technologies rather than being one focussed on any one specific technology.

What seems laudably unusual about it is the intent to look outside ‘hard engineering’ to include the social sciences. At the end of the day, if the public doesn’t accept the downsides of a technology, it’s not going to take off – just ask Concorde (unless it’s adopted by the military, of course).

Looking forward to Farnborough 2024!