Research into ship design for aircraft operations

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Centre for Engineering Dynamics


Landing a helicopter on a ship at sea is one of the most demanding and hazardous tasks that a helicopter pilot can face. Degraded visibility and a confined landing area, ship motion and poor low-speed aircraft handling qualities are compounded by the ever present, but invisible, ship airwake, which can very significantly disturb the landing process in the final critical phases. For winds coming from the direction of the bow, the flow over the landing deck is similar to that behind a three-dimensional backward facing step. As the helicopter rotor moves into the free shear layers which separate from the top and sides of the hangar, local flow impingement angles and hence the rotor thrust and moments vary significantly. In order to land safely onto the moving deck, the pilot has to exert high workload through the controls to overcome the unsteady moments and forces.

The purpose of this proposal is to advance research in this area by enabling the applicant to represent the UK on a NATO Exploratory Team whose role will be to direct future research into the design of ships for which the airflow over the helicopter landing deck does not unnecessarily restrict the operational envelope, and present the pilot with too dangerous a task. Recent epsrc-funded research carried out by the applicant has shown that it is possible to modify a ship to improve the airflow over the landing deck. However, examining the airflow itself and predicting from that the likely effect on the helicopter can be misleading. The applicant has therefore developed a virtual engineering technique in which the unsteady complex airflow over the ship is calculated by Computational Fluid Dynamics and used with flight modelling software and a piloted motion base flight simulator to effectively 'fly' a helicopter onto the ship to evaluate the difficulties arising from the ship aerodynamics. The purpose of the NATO group is to review the current research in this area and use this to inform future research. As the applicant is the key researcher in the UK in this area, it is important that he uses his experience to inform the work of the Exploratory Team, and that he is informed of the future research direction that NATO countries wish to develop.

Planned Impact

The research that will emerge from this application will have benefits to our current research partners - UK MoD, the MoD scientific agencies (DSTL, SEA, QinetiQ), AgustaWestland, BAE Systems, Royal Navy. Beyond these UK beneficiaries there are the defence agencies of the US, Canada and Australia who participate in TTCP and the additional countries of the NATO Exploratory Team. Looking ahead, there will be significant impact through improved ship design from the point of view of helicopter operations. Furthermore, taking into account the broader ship/helicopter research activity of the applicant, there will be impact from the potential savings in cost and time for dangerous sea trials, and improvements in training, safety and effectiveness arising from the use of higher fidelity simulations. Communication and Engagement with the appropriate beneficiaries at home and abroad is greatly assisted by the applicant's prominent role in research at the ship-helicopter dynamic interface, while collaboration has, and will continue to be, a significant feature of our research. Applications of our research are already evident, for example, through the aerodynamic evaluation of the future Type 26 Combat Ship, and the simulation SHOL trials undertaken in the RNAS Merlin training simulator at Culdrose.


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