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Making planes quieter starts with good science and effective collaboration

Photo credit: Bombardier Aerospace

Photo credit: Bombardier Aerospace

The number of people travelling by air is projected to grow about 4.8% per year over the next 20 years but that increased traffic is making airports noisier. The Green Aviation Research and Development Network (GARDN) has responded with a national effort to design Canadian-made planes that are among the quietest in the world.

A key GARDN partner, Bombardier Aerospace, is on a mission to manufacture quieter planes that also save its customers money. Gaining that competitive edge starts with a fundamental understanding of the two biggest sources of external noise on an aircraft – its landing gear and airframe.

The Dorval QC-headquartered company is leading a GARDN project in collaboration with universities, the National Research Council and small- and medium-sized companies to identify how each part and design feature can make a plane noisier or quieter.

“It’s very difficult to expand airports these days because of the regulations surrounding noise but even more so because of concerns from the nieghbouring areas,” says Stephen Colavincenzo, Bombardier’s Chief of Acoustics and Vibration and a member of GARDN’s scientific committee.

First, Canada needed better capacity to conduct noise tests. Working with Etobicoke, ON-based Aercoustics Engineering, Bombardier helped to refurbish an echo-free wind tunnel at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies that had fallen into disrepair. The project also conducted tests at the National Research Council’s wind tunnels in Ottawa, which allowed the federal lab to begin offering acoustic testing to other customers.

For the wind tunnel testing, Bombardier collaborated with Héroux-Devtek Inc., a landing gear manufacturer in Longueuil QC, to identify how each part on the landing gear (e.g. lights and hydraulic lines) affects noise levels.

“This allowed us to build of a dataset of how things change and create some simple equations to determine, for example, that adding this type of strut adds this much noise. It effectively becomes your initial quick design tool,” says Colavincenzo.

Wind tunnel tests are important, but they are also expensive and time-consuming. So, the GARDN team developed complex computational tools—called computational aeroacoustics (CAA) capabilities— to simulate ideas before testing them in a wind tunnel. Prior to the project, Bombardier had limited capability to perform computational aeroacoustics. Now, as a result of GARDN, it has a software model that saves money and shaves months off the design and testing phases.

That model was already used to identify and eliminate a noise source on the landing gear of Bombardier’s new Global 7000 luxury jet. Had the problem been discovered during certification testing, Colavincenzo said it would have cost the company far more to correct.

Having a low-noise CAA certification also means lower costs for commercial airlines which pay landing fees based on their aircraft’s decibel levels. “That’s a cash savings for an operator and something we’re pushing as a competitive advantage,” says Colavincenzo.

As a result of GARDN, Colavincenzo says research funding into this specialized field has quadrupled, helping Canada to narrow an early research lead taken by competitors in other countries.

“Prior to GARDN, Bombardier was researching ways to predict and reduce noise,” he says. “However, the leveraging we received from GARDN provided our company with the impetus to put more money into these efforts. The project also made us aware of the wealth of university experts and other national resources working in this field, and connected us with a lot of smaller companies we hadn’t been involved with before.”

It’s those linkages—and the credibility that comes from working with a national, multi-stakeholder science-based network—that GARDN brings to its industry members.

“These research projects give smaller companies an opportunity to work with the big guys like Bombardier, build the confidence and eventually position themselves higher in the supply chain,” says Sylvain Cofsky, GARDN’s executive director. “It also gives each of our members a strategic approach to green aviation and greater visibility in this field, which is a competitive advantage globally.”