Innovative aeronautical research aims to predict safe conditions around ships, oil rigs and within urban environments to allow helicopters to land in gale force winds and high seas.
Imagine piloting a helicopter towards a ship, fighting a gale force wind and watching as the ship pitch and heaves by several metres as huge waves pass underneath.
At this point, as the pilot of the helicopter, you must make the decision whether it is possible to land on the ship, or if you need to wait for calmer conditions. This decision point is critical for Navy pilots and, in some cases, pilots have resorted to landing on icebergs or similar as they are unable to return to a ship during high wind conditions.
This scenario at the heart of research led by Associate Professor Ben Thornber which is in development of a state-of-the-art computational fluid dynamics model.
“Understanding turbulence generated by the ship, and its impact on the helicopter, is a formidable challenge,” Associate Professor Thornber says.
“It requires knowledge of atmospheric turbulence, motion of the ship deck due to waves, helicopter aerodynamics and human factors. Our research focuses on our recently commissioned Landing Helicopter Dock, which has the capability of permitting multiple helicopters operating simultaneously.”
The aim of Associate Professor Thornber’s research is to enable computations of critical operational scenarios to assess the safe operational limits in terms of helicopter separation and atmospheric wind conditions, in timescales which are achievable on supercomputing facilities.
It is also relevant to helicopter and UAV operations near oil rigs, in the urban environment and for large equipment inspection.
The research validated two key components: the accurate simulation of turbulence generated by the superstructure of the ship and a new efficient model of the helicopter rotor blade.
“The second element is key to the overall simulations as our new model enables rotating blades to be placed arbitrarily around the ship, and to follow prescribed paths such as typical landing approaches,” Associate Professor Thornber says.
“By including the rotor blades in the computation, we are able to assess the impact of turbulence on rotor blade lift and the downwash from the rotor blade on nearby helicopter operations.”
The ultimate aim is to develop a unique software system to predict and guide safe helicopter operations around ships, oil rigs and within urban environments. There is also potential to apply the research to wind turbines and propellers, looking at the impact of incoming turbulence on operation, the wake generated and, in the longer term, noise prediction.
Associate Professor Thornber is undertaking work on the project in collaboration with current Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) student, Daniel Linton and in partnership with the Federal Government’s Defence Science and Technology Group.
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