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Chief scientist: Airmen's innovative spirit vital to future

  • Published
  • By Roger Drinnon
  • Air Mobility Command Public Affairs
The Air Force's top scientific adviser expressed his appreciation for the innovative spirit among today's Airmen, during a visit with Air Mobility Command here May 1.

Air Force Chief Scientist Dr. Werner J.A. Dahm said each Airman plays a vital role in innovation across the Air Force, as opportunities for improvement and the exploitation of science and technology are everywhere.

"Some innovation may come from the top, but it's the people who are working the actual day-to-day operations who will see the opportunities where innovation can occur," he said. "Airmen are the ones executing the mission on a day-to-day basis, so they're the ones in the best position to say, 'We could do this better.'"

He spoke about current and pending innovations across the Air Force. Initiatives pertaining to fuel efficiency -- a significant Air Force issue -- include discussions about formation flying and the development of next-generation aircraft engines.

"The formation flying concept has been around for a long time - the idea there is to fly two or more aircraft together for drag reduction," Dr. Dahm said. "Some people remember how, in World War II, we flew large formations of bombers -- but the type of formation flying we're talking about today is different and much smaller. Even with just two aircraft there are very significant fuel savings. Both aircraft use less fuel when they fly in formation."

"You can have aircraft flying separated along the trailing vortex at a greater distance than some might assume -- even in vertical separation -- and still get fuel efficiency benefits while addressing safety and other concerns about this type of flying," he explained.

Dr. Dahm said the concept for fuel-efficient formation flying is under discussion with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency officials right now. There are early indications of as much as a 17 percent increase in fuel efficiency even when just two aircraft are flying together. He said adding more aircraft to a formation produces even more synergistic increases in efficiency, though the overall operational impacts have to be thought through when it comes to larger formations.

"Even with two aircraft, not only would we save 17 percent of the combined fuel use, but there's also the whole (logistics tail) benefit of reduced resupply that goes along with that benefit, so the potential aggregate savings could be substantial," Dr. Dahm said.

He said there are methods that can ensure pilots fly safely in formations while maintaining the optimum distance from other aircraft to allow drag reduction.

"There are technologies that can allow aircraft to automatically find and stay in the 'sweet spot' during formation flying, to maximize the drag reduction and thereby lead to significantly greater fuel efficiency," he said.

He said formation flying would not be used at all times but rather as opportunities arise with minimal impact on flying operations.

"This doesn't mean any radical changes to our operations," Dr. Dahm said. "What you want to do is look for ways to do this that involve only minor operational adjustments to maximize the benefits at the right place and time; the potential fuel savings are very great."

He said another fuel efficiency initiative has the Air Force improving aircraft engine designs.

"The Air Force Research Laboratory has a program underway called the Versatile Affordable Advanced Turbine Engine (or VAATE) with several pieces to it, and one of those pieces that potentially affects AMC is the Highly Efficient Embedded Turbine Engine (or HEETE) program," he said.

Dr. Dahm said some aspects of VAATE and HEETE likely will result in more thermally-efficient engines for various aircraft, allowing aircraft to be more fuel efficient. The benefits of these technologies include potential air mobility applications.

"The benefits to air mobility might not be obvious, but the beauty of technology is that when you develop it for one application, like embedded engines, you're free to use it wherever you'll gain advantage from it, like in the high bypass engines that AMC uses," Dr. Dahm said.

The chief scientist emphasized that all Airmen need to look continuously for potential innovations, as the Air Force relies on all Air Force members for new ideas to address today's challenges.

"The Air Force counts on every single person involved in the mission to look for ways they can do their part -- maybe very different ways from how they're doing it today -- and to feed (innovative ideas) up the chain of command," Dr. Dahm said.

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