ThinKom’s antenna radome achieves near-zero drag in tests

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ThinKom’s Ka-band satellite antenna has just completed an aerodynamic study which has revealed a near-zero drag value when installed on a regional jet. This is the first time the antenna has been tested in flight, and supports ThinKom’s claims of producing a low drag radome.

Ka2517 has been proven to have very low drag. Photo: ThinKom

Bill Milroy, chief technical officer of ThinKom Solutions commented on the results of the test, saying,

“This independent analysis by a recognized industry expert confirms the feasibility for airline carriers to outfit their regional jet fleets with broadband in-flight connectivity (IFC).

“It’s imperative that aerodynamic drag and weight be minimized to make satellite IFC economically viable on these aircraft.

“Adding IFC to regional fleets will enable airlines to enhance customer loyalty by offering a common IFC experience across their entire wide body, narrow body and regional fleets. Other capabilities such as uninterrupted gate-to-gate service on the tarmac and the move toward free Wi-Fi will only accelerate the deployment of IFC services throughout the airlines’ entire fleet.”

The testing

Testing was conducted by David Lednicer, vice president of engineering Aeromechanical Solutions. Using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analyses, Lednicer conducted a series of tests to see how the radome affects drag and therefore fuel burn on a variety of regional jet airframes. The tests replaced cruise conditions, to give a clear indication of the effect of the radome on the efficiency of the aircraft.

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The inner workings of Ka2517. Photo: ThinKom

Specifically, the test utilized some of the most popular regional jets in the US. These were the Boeing 717, Embraer (ERJ-145 and ERJ-175) and Bombardier (CRJ-200, CRJ-550 and CRJ-700). The CFD program utilized, for those software geeks out there, was the Star-CCM+ Navier-Stokes CFD Program. This models flow physics across the device.

The results of the tests were highly positive. The drag increase as a result of the antenna was calculated to be less than 0.4% of the cruise drag. According to Lednicer, regional jets already have a low cruise drag, therefore this is quite an achievement for ThinKom. Lednicer commented on the test results saying,

“The design of the Ka2517 has been driven by lessons learned in the design of several generations of satcom radomes. With each generation the radome shapes have been refined for lower drag, reduced aerodynamic impact on the host aircraft and improved birdstrike resistance. The smaller, lower profile antennas of the Ka2517 have enabled achievement of a new high-water mark in radome design.”

A bright future for this low drag antenna

ThinKom previously tested the Ka2517 phased array antenna using the Proteus high-altitude long-endurance aircraft. The ThinAir antenna delivered a 25 Mbps return link and a 5 Mbps forward link operating at over 50,000 feet altitude through an Inmarsat Global Xpress Ka-band satellite in geostationary orbit.

Ka2517 on Proteus
Ka2517 on Proteus. Photo: ThinKom

The antenna has also been tested with MEO and GEO satellites with SES, proving it could handle a seamless handover between the two satellite types. For this, it was mounted on a Gulfstream G-111 testbed, completing what are thought to be the first inflight demonstration of an antenna using hybrid MEO and GEO networks.

Already, the antennas are in operation on a fleet of US government aircraft, and the company says there are ‘multiple commercial STC projects underway’.  2020 is looking like a top year for this specialist antenna manufacturer.

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