Thermal management a challenge for designers of future military aircraft

Thermal-management challenges in military and aerospace electronics systems today are “everywhere we look,” says Jim Robles of the Boeing Co.

Apr 1st, 2008
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By Courtney E. Howard

SAN DIEGO—Thermal-management challenges in military and aerospace electronics systems today are “everywhere we look,” says Jim Robles of the Boeing Co. “Thermal management is quickly becoming a limiting design factor for future military aircraft and satellites.”

Robles made his comments in March during an address entitled “Aerospace Thermal Management Challenges and Solutions, A Boeing Perspective,” to the Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum (MAEF) conference and trade show in San Diego, sponsored by Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine.

Today’s aviation, vetronics, and other mil-aero applications require more power, but have less space—this contributes to higher thermal loads and less opportunity to drive the heat out, Robles describes.

Boeing customers care about the following, according to Robles: Total ownership cost, high functional density, reliability in harsh environments, compatibility with two-level maintenance, and the ability to facilitate insertion of new technology and mitigate component obsolescence.


Jim Robles of the Boeing Company, at right, participates in the Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum conference and trade show last month in San Diego. At left is Dr. Stephen Jarrett, chief technologist at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.
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Robles went on to discuss thermal-management options available to the mil-aero industry—such as conduction cooling and liquid flow-through cooling—as well as presented specifics about VITA circuit cards, ANSI/VITA documents, and other thermal-management information.

Interest in and use of directed-energy weapons and electric aircraft are growing, and these innovations require ultra-efficient energy systems. An industry need exists, Robles says, for “energy system technologies that provide dramatic improvements in capability and affordability.”

Some technologies that Boeing is investigating are lightweight carbon thermal-management systems, as well as fuel cells, CNT thermal interface, and spray cooling. “We are not going to have any other choice than to investigate and invest in spray cooling,” he predicts.

The aerospace thermal management challenge is driven by: more electric aircraft, directed energy weapons, and increased power and heat flux in avionics and vetronics. At the same time, mil-aero users in the future are always going to be interested in ramping it up–doing things faster, at greater distances, and so on.

“Future cooling demands will require an integrated thermal management strategy at the platform, subsystem, and component levels,” Robles says. “COTS in the future,” he proclaims. “That’s the way our lives are going to be.”

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