Air Force seeks to develop solid-state power distribution for modern electric aircraft

Posted by John Keller

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio, 19 Jan. 2010. Aircraft power-distribution experts at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory are asking industry to develop a solid-state electrical distribution unit able to handle large power loads and shut down power quickly in case of short circuits or arc faults.

Today's aircraft power-distribution systems typically use electromechanical contactors to control large circuits -- particularly for flight-critical power loads -- because electromechanical technology can switch large amounts of current with low power drop.

The problem with electromechanicals, however, is their tendency to let through too much power when faults occur. Instead, Air Force researchers want to develop solid-state power control for large aircraft loads because solid state reacts much more quickly to close circuits when faults happen.

To develop this kind of power-distribution technology, the Energy/Power/Thermal Division of the Air Force Research Lab's Propulsion Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is issuing a broad agency announcement (BAA-10-01-PKP) entitled Solid State Electrical Distribution Unit.

Time is short on this solicitation, as interested companies must respond by 27 Jan. -- just eight days away.

Air Force researchers want to develop solid-state electrical distribution units for modern aircraft called "more electric aircraft," in which electric motors take the place of hydraulics in large aircraft systems like control surfaces.

The electrical distribution unit powers and protects flight-critical aircraft systems. When electrical faults occur, these units switch capacitive loads to prevent further damage.

Air Force researchers say they believe that semiconductor technology -- such as increases in density, reduced substrate defects, and improved die-attachment techniques -- has advanced sufficiently to lend itself to high-power solid-state aircraft electrical distribution systems.

The Air Force wants to develop a device with a minimum of three input channels: main line, bus tie, and battery. Each channel must be able to handle maximum power of 120 amps continuous, and 400 amps peak. Also of interest is a solid-state bus tie with improved switching functions.

Response times to faults should be less than one millisecond, and the unit should have sufficient current sensing to allow for differential protection with all available input sources. The Air Force wants this unit to be cooled by conventional conduction or convection cooling with no forced air.

For technical questions or concerns, contact Brett Jordan at the Air Force Research Lab by e-mail at For contracting questions contact Douglas Harris by e-mail at, or by phone at 937-656-9065.

More information is online at

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