Electrifying Tempest with industrial partnerships

Innovators
How do you power a future combat aircraft, when energy demands of the systems aboard are constantly increasing, but the need for efficiency and sustainability has become a global priority?
Image showing Tempest at night over London
 
 
Image of Steve Nelson, Programme Technical Manager Flight Systems Next Generation Technologies This is the challenge facing Team Tempest, whose members have a once in a generation opportunity to design a future combat air capability from the ground up, utilising not only today’s technologies but those we expect to see decades from now. Some of the technologies used to power Typhoon today, such as the use of bleed-off air from the engine, may be insufficient to supply all of the future needs of Tempest, which is likely to have an energy requirement similar to that of a small town.
 
The power requirement necessitates new thinking about power generation and energy management, from energy harvesting to on-board storage and near-instantaneous availability. Working with Rolls-Royce on propulsion and energy management, we are exploring embedded electrical generation, taking current directly from the main engine shaft. Historically, gearboxes would have been used to do this, but these are less efficient and for Tempest every watt counts.
 
 
Image showing a night shot of Tempest on runway
 
 
Alongside our partners, we are investigating systems that can be maintained in a ready or standby state and then powered to hundreds of kilowatts instantly, providing a ‘power when you need it’ capability. In this specific area, we have a unique collaboration with Williams Advanced Engineering to leverage motorsport technologies that provide durable fast-charging energy capability.
 
The collaboration across industry is key to enabling the electrification of Tempest, which could require as much power as a small town.

Steve Nelson

, Programme Technical Manager Flight Systems Next Generation Technologies
 
And what of the sensors aboard? In collaboration with Leonardo, our expectation is that these too will require increased power demands. Quantum sensing, for example, might need to operate in vacuums cooled down to microkelvins. For other thermal management on the aircraft, we are working with Reaction Engines Ltd, who are developing ground-breaking heat-exchanger capabilities. Managing all these various energy and power trade-offs is a twenty-first century engineering challenge that requires twenty-first century systems integration, from model-based engineering to novel solutions. Solutions which must also allow for new power demands of future technologies that will arise between now and the maiden flight.
 
 
In 2020, the team investigated the likely power requirements for Tempest and pulled together the relevant specialists and SMEs from defence and adjacent industries.
 
For the next 12-18 months, we will continue to explore and compare hardware, both digitally and physically in our unique Air Labs Flight Systems facility. Once we have finalised component level choices, these will then be tested within different architectures to optimise power management performance.