Aerodynamics and the innovative "art" of aeronautical design

Since 2017 Airbus, ONERA and DLR have been collaborating closely between France and Germany on the development of the next generation of CFD codes

CFD: Computer-aided simulation of aerodynamic flows, computational fluid dynamics or CFD is the basis for the development of the next generation airplanes: the ISTAR research aircraft of the DLR is shown with a section visualized using the color gradient of a flow simulation carried out with the new software developed by Airbus, DLR and ONERA
Computer-aided simulation of aerodynamic flows, Computational Fluid Dynamics or CFD is the basis for the development of next-generation airplanes: DLR's ISTAR research aircraft is shown with a section displayed using the color gradient of a flow simulation performed with the new software developed by Airbus, DLR and ONERA

The decarbonisation of aviation is based on a combination of many incremental steps, a process notoriously made up of successive small adjustments, and real disruptive technological breakthroughs.
To be successful, both approaches must coexist within a collaborative ecosystem.
In this spirit, Airbus and two leading European research institutes, DLR in Germany and ONERA in France, are investigating how high-performance computing can improve our understanding of the relationship between aircraft aerodynamics and efficiency, and intend to strengthen their collaboration.

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CFD: The Airbus, DLR and ONERA cooperation agreement was first signed in 2017 by Marc Fischer, Head of Flight Physics Center of Competence at Airbus, Charles Champion, Executive Vice-President Engineering at Airbus, Thierry Michal, General Technical Director of ONERA, and by Rolf Henke, DLR Executive Board Member for Aeronautics Research
The Airbus, DLR and ONERA cooperation agreement was first signed in 2017 by Marc Fischer, Airbus Head of Flight Physics Center of Competence, Charles Champion, Airbus Executive Vice-President Engineering, Thierry Michal, General Technical Director of ONERA, and by Rolf Henke, DLR Executive Board Member for Aeronautics Research

In computational fluid dynamics? Applied Mathematics, Physics and High Performance Computing

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) combines applied mathematics, physics and high-performance computing.
It is used to understand how air moves over complex shapes and helps aircraft engineers maximize lift and minimize drag to make an aircraft as fuel efficient as possible at both low and high speeds.
Computer simulation of flows helps researchers to design more efficient aircraft and, consequently, to reduce fuel consumption and harmful emissions.
“I always say that CFD is where science meets art. It's a beautiful thing, because it's a kind of computerized wind tunnel.", he claims Simon Galpin, responsible for aerodynamics of Airbus.
He oversees a five-year partnership between the German Aerospace Center (the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, acronym DLR) and the French Aerospace Laboratory (Office National d'Etudes et de Recherches Aérospatiales, acronym ONERA) on behalf of Airbus.

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CFD: Airbus, DLR and ONERA are jointly developing a new generation of standard CFD codes for the aviation industry, suitable for aircraft, helicopters, space and aerospace systems in equal measure: the flow simulation shows, from left to right, a H135 helicopter, the hydrogen-powered ZEROe aircraft in turboprop configuration and a generic aircraft model in the wind tunnel
Airbus, DLR and ONERA are jointly developing a new generation of industry-standard CFD codes that are equally suitable for aircraft, helicopters, and space and aerospace systems: Flow simulation shows, from left to right, an H135 helicopter , the hydrogen-powered ZEROe aircraft in turboprop configuration and a generic aircraft model in the wind tunnel

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DLR and ONERA have been collaborating with Airbus for decades.
Historically, each organization worked on separate computer codes, the foundation upon which CFD flow simulation is built.
While the code each organization developed was effective on its own, communication between the different development teams was limited.
Gradually it became clear that the code required collective reengineering for extreme-scale parallel computing platforms. And now it has been decided to implement this cooperation.
The new Franco-German or German-French partnership, whatever you prefer, addresses this shortcoming.
“It made sense to join our efforts”, says Galpin again.
“We are developing a next generation CFD code that is already 'industry ready' for predicting aerodynamic flows and is equally applicable to aircraft, helicopters and space systems”.
The signing of the first agreement in 2017 was significant for an industry that requires substantial time, resources and investment.
“Overnight the workforce has almost doubled!”, recalls the director of aeronautical programs of ONERA, Philippe Beaumier.
“We had a team of experts on both sides of the Rhine”.

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CFD: from left to right, Frank Lefèvre (General Technical Director of ONERA), Sabine Klauke (CTO of Airbus) and Professor Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla (President of the Executive Committee of the DLR) signed the extension of the cooperation agreement to three in the field of advanced aeronautics
From left to right, Frank Lefèvre (General Technical Director of ONERA), Sabine Klauke (CTO of Airbus) and Professor Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla (President of the Executive Committee of the DLR) signed the extension of the three-way cooperation agreement in advanced aeronautics subject
(Photo: Pascal Pigeyre/Master Films)

Agreement at the end of 2022 aimed at large projects such as ZEROe, EcoPulse and Open Fan Research

The partners renewed their commitment at the end of 2022, with the aim of extending the code to current and future Airbus projects, such as ZEROe, EcoPulse and Open Fan Research.
The code is already being used to mature test cases previously thought unfeasible due to limited physical representation and computational capacity.
Soon these cases could influence the choices regarding propulsion, engine integration and wing technology, which will determine the designs for a new generation of fuel-efficient aircraft.
“We want to improve the predictability of performance right from the design phase”, he claims Markus Fischer of the DLR, member of the Division Council for the Aeronautics.
"The new code can also help specialists study even more radical design concepts, such as the so-called 'flying wing', with a degree of speed and precision that was not within the reach of previous software."

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CFD: Computational fluid dynamics will play a key role in the development of next-generation aircraft, as Airbus, DLR and ONERA set to demonstrate
Computational fluid dynamics will play a key role in the development of next-generation aircraft, as Airbus, DLR and ONERA set to demonstrate

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“Without unbounded digitization accelerating the pace of innovation, the decoupling between air traffic growth and emissions cannot be ensured”, Fischer still maintains.
The DLR shares Airbus and ONERA's zero-emissions aviation vision, which Fischer says will require “a disruptive approach”.
“Decarbonization requires a double revolution”, agrees Beaumier, “one technological and one methodological”.
And yet: “To realize these ambitions, aircraft development cycles must be halved. This is where a 'mature' numerical simulation plays a fundamental role”.
How does the CFD make a zero net contribution? Galpin responds by pointing out that kerosene substitutes will likely be more expensive.
“It is best to extract every single gram of energy from every kilogram of alternative fuel, using the most efficient aircraft architecture. The use of advanced CFD helps us to reduce aerodynamic drag little by little”.

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CFD: the combination between the flags of the French Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany symbolizes the collaboration in the field of aeronautical research between the two countries
The crasis between the flags of the French Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany symbolizes the collaboration in the field of aeronautical research between the German Aerospace Center (the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, abbreviated as DLR) and the French Aerospace Laboratory (Office National d' Etudes et de Recherches Aérospatiales, acronym ONERA) on behalf of Airbus

It will serve to attract future engineers to the aviation industry's sustainability goals

Airbus has access to some of the world's best-performing extreme-scale computing systems to help develop and validate computational fluid dynamics code, increasing engineers' confidence in their predictions.
“It is a challenging and rewarding exercise”, says Baumier again, “with real-world application capability”.
The last word belongs to Pascal Larrieu, an electronics simulation expert at Airbus and responsible for the development of the new flow solver.
'This project opens the door to a diverse, dynamic and European-wide research network. We are convinced that our work will help attract future aeronautical engineers, who will join us in achieving the zero emissions ambition together.”.

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CFD: The Airbus, DLR and ONERA cooperation agreement was first signed in 2017 by Marc Fischer, Head of Flight Physics Center of Competence at Airbus, Charles Champion, Executive Vice-President Engineering at Airbus, Thierry Michal, General Technical Director of ONERA, and by Rolf Henke, DLR Executive Board Member for Aeronautics Research
The Airbus, DLR and ONERA cooperation agreement was first signed in 2017 by Marc Fischer, Airbus Head of Flight Physics Center of Competence, Charles Champion, Airbus Executive Vice-President Engineering, Thierry Michal, General Technical Director of ONERA, and by Rolf Henke, DLR Executive Board Member for Aeronautics Research