“Our goal is that drones become an integral part of our everyday life in the area of services and public safety in the near future.”
Paweł Stężycki, PhD Eng. is Director of the Łukasiewicz Research Network – Institute of Aviation (Poland).
The Łukasiewicz Research Network – Institute of Aviation celebrates its 95th anniversary as one of the oldest research institutions in Europe. What are Łukasiewicz-ILOT’s main milestones achieved in the aviation sector since its origin in 1926?
Since the very beginning the institute was focused on aircraft testing and certification. After war our activities were dedicated more to military purposes – our main task was to carry out on-ground and in-flight tests but we have also been developing our own constructions like Bies, Iskra or Iryda. It is worth to mention that we also had sucesses in designing aircraft engines. Later on, our focus moved on agricultural aircraft. Interestingly, apart from our core activity, we simultanously started to develop our competences in space technologies.
Today, we are a research institute providing R&D and testing services to local and global industrial partners. At the beginning of new millennium we signed an agreement with General Electric. Together with our American partners we created, at our premises in Warsaw, the Engineering Design Center – one of the largest design offices in Europe.
Since Poland accessed European Union in 2004, we started also to participate in European projects. Right now we are involved in Clean Sky 2 programme aimed at developing future aviation concepts and designs (such as SAT-AM, TRAIL or DREAM projects). In frame of them we cooperate closely with leading companies on the aviation market.
We are also strengthening our position in a domestic market – since 2019 we are part of the Łukasiewicz Research Network, the third largest research network in Europe. Together with other 31 Polish research institutes we are part of the scientific community who support the development of Polish companies. As it is stated in Łukasiewicz’s motto – we are science that work for business.
Łukasiewicz-ILOT is made up of different research centers focused on areas such as Space, Materials and Structures, UAVs and Engineering, among others. What are Łukasiewicz-ILOT strategic research areas in which technology transfer to the industry is constant?
We are active in very dynamic industries that use advanced technologies. Operating in such diverse areas requires to prioritize strategic activities.
Taking into account the current and future possibilities, we have distinguished three strategic areas, which are: aviation, space and unmanned technologies.
In the area of aviation, we are focused primarily on the design and testing of aircraft structures, with particular emphasis on materials and structures. Within the institute, there are three specialized research centers dedicated for research of materials, composites and aviation technologies. The extensive laboratory facilities and the competence maturity of our engineering staff are appreciated by industrial partners (such as Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo Helicopters or PZL Mielec – a Lockheed Martin company) for whom we carry out work under the European Clean Sky 2 programme. In our projects we develop, among others, methods of designing and manufacturing composite elements that are later used in the aviation industry.
An important issue is the possibility of commercializing the results of our research. Since 2000, we have been developing cooperation with the world leader in the engineering industry – GE. We provide also engineering services in the field of analysis and design, as well as research and development works for corporate clients (such as Baker Hughes, Innio or Wabtec) based on long-term cooperation agreements. It is here the technology transfers and cooperation with industry is greatest. We are also opened for this kind of corporate-industrial cooperation with other interested parties on a market.
The most recent example of cooperation leading to commercialization is our participation in the SUBCOM project, which aims to develop innovative communication systems for space and rocket applications. This project will use the ILR-33 AMBER 2K suborbital rocket developed at our institute. The rocket will enable scientific research and verification of communication systems during flight tests. We implement the SUBCOM project as a part of a grant together with a Polish industrial partner: Thorium Space.
In the area of unmanned technologies, we use our unique experience in the field of transport with the use of drones over urban areas. We were the only foreign institution invited to participate in the unique tests of the unmanned vehicle traffic management system coordinated by NASA’s Ames Research Center in Nevada.
This experience allowed us to broaden our competences. We have established the Center for Unmanned Technologies within our structure, that initiates and coordinates activities in the field of systems and constructions development. We have also established a Drone Certification Center where we conduct standardization and regulatory activities for the drone market. The procedure for admitting drones to flights is also intended to be carried out here (including flights in the special category according to the SORA methodology).
We are also involved in ASSURED-UAM project aimed at creation of future scenarios for the development of urban air mobility and the definition of standards and recommendations for the implementation of unmanned operations in urban agglomerations. Right now – apart from this project, together with drone companies Dronehub and Pentacomp and with a support of city of Sosnowiec and Metropolis GZM, we are taking part in a pilot program of transporting AED defibrillators by UAV’s. This is the first project of this type in Poland. Our goal is that drones become an integral part of our everyday life in the area of services and public safety in the near future.
What is the impact of COVID-19 on Łukasiewicz-ILOT research activities?
First of all, the pandemic influenced the way we work and the tools we use. Overnight, we had to reorganize our current workflow – the administrative staff and engineers working on design or calculations could do their work remotely. However, we could not transfer the work in the laboratories to the on-line zone, so we had to implement special measures to ensure maximum safety for the engineering staff working on site.
As I mentioned earlier, our strengths are, above all, the diversification of the areas of activity and a wide range of projects.
I cannot fail to mention one more aspect I am also extremely proud of. In the face of initial difficulties related to the limited access to personal protective equipment for medics, we organized an aid campaign for Polish hospitals. We worked intensively in two shifts in our laboratories to meet the growing demand from all over the country.
Our assistance has reached over 120 hospitals and medical facilities in 16 provinces. In total, we managed to produce over 52 000 protective helmets. We manufactured also adapters for safety masks and half-mask in 3D technology which were used by ambulance stations.
These kinds of gestures bring an extremely important message of unity, solidarity and commitment. I am glad that we were able to use our resources to help in such a difficult situation.
Scientists and engineers from Łukasiewicz-ILOT work for providing solutions to the current aviation problems in partnership with the global companies of the industry. What are the most outstanding projects you are involved in?
I would like to focus on three aviation projects we are involved in: SAT-AM, TRAIL and DREAM. All of them are funded by European Commission under Clean Sky 2 initiative.
First of them, SAT-AM, is focused on developing new technologies for production of aircraft structures for 4-19 seat aircraft category. Aside from our institute that is a project leader, the consortium includes: PZL Mielec, Eurotech, Szel-Tech, P.W. Metrol, Ultratech, Aviation Plant Margański & Mysłowski and the Italian institute for research and development – CIRA. The consortium task was to develop a cabin demonstrator and a composite engine nacelle for M28 aircraft manufactured by PZL Mielec. What is important in this project is that the nacelle our engineers had developed, has a potential to replace the metal structure in the future. I really recommend to visit our Youtube channel (ILOT.TV) to watch a video presenting the consortium work.
TRAIL is another project focused on an innovative engine nacelle development. The R&D work is dedicated for next generation civil tiltrotor technology demonstrator under supervision of Leonardo Helicopters. As a consortium leader we are responsible for designing, analyzing and testing of a nacelle. Other project partners are: Politecnico di Milano, Trelleborg Sealing Solutions, NLR, LA Composite, Szel-Tech and P.W. Metrol.
And the third one, DREAM is aimed on development in the field of design and manufacturing of aviation composite parts. The project is to design engine compartment cowlings, including air inlet ducts and ventilation ducts as well as manufacture parts for the new compound rotorcraft being developed by Airbus Helicopters. Aside from our institute, the consortium consists of Czech research institute: VZLU and LA Composite.
You will host the 12th IFAR (International Forum for Aviation Research) Summit on Sustainable Aviation next October 18-21. Can you advance some of the topics and the role of Łukasiewicz-ILOT in this event?
This year 12th IFAR Summit will be hosted in Warsaw during October 18th-21st. The main topic of the summit will be sustainable aviation, with the special regard to the future of aviation industry, challenges of research organisations and works toward cooperation with ICAO. We expect delegates from USA, Canada, Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, Hungary and many more.
Łukasiewicz-ILOT will be the host of the summit as well as the moderator of few sessions. I am looking forward for meeting our honourable guests and having interesting discussions with them.