Applies Boundary Layer Phenomena to Improve Flight in Planes and Helicopters
Most people look at airplanes and helicopters and ask, “How do they fly?” BLR Aerospace looks at aircraft and asks, “How do we make them fly better?”
BLR started in 1992 in Everett Washington with four employees, including company president and founder, Robert Desroche. A Navy veteran, Desroche later became a pilot, leading him to found the company. In 15 years, the company has grown to 50 employees, including contractors and associates and 60 STC (Supplemental Type Certificate) approvals to improve flight safety and handling by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) for after-market aircraft modifications.
The company’s primary product lines involve airflow manipulation technologies that focus on the boundary layer, the very thin layer of air flowing over the surface of an aircraft wing, or airfoil. The molecules that directly touch the wing’s surface are virtually motionless while each layer of molecules within the boundary layer moves faster than the layers closer to the wing’s surface. The flow outside the boundary layer reacts to the shape of the edge of the boundary layer just like it would to the physical surface of an object. By altering the shape of the boundary layer, you can change the stability, lift, drag, and heat friction of the wing.
BLR’s first product was a vortex generator, a small aluminum device about half an inch tall and two inches long, thin like a blade, and normally installed in pairs that entice the air to flow around the curvature of the wing, enhancing lift. This product and many others resulted from a gift of Robert Desroche’s, according to Dave Marone, BLR vice president of sales and marketing. “Bob’s distinctive talent is his ability to walk around an aircraft and identify opportunities to improve its performance. It’s exciting to examine an aircraft with him and see it through his eyes.”
Started with Airplanes
In the civilian world, BLR makes products for the Beechcraft Baron, Duke, King Air, and Travel-Air; many Cessna models from the 172 to the 441; the DeHavilland DHC-2 MKI Beaver; and the Piper, including the Aerostar, Mojave, Navajo, Panthers I and II, and Senecas II, III, and IV models. For military aircraft, BLR is developing products for models of the Hercules, Hawkeye, and Army C-12.
Many of these products are so widely accepted that some think BLR innovations are factory standard and not after-market modifications. One aircraft where BLR winglet and performance enhancing systems are common is the Beechcraft Duke, as BLR innovations fly on over 50 percent of the fleet.
BLR started working with helicopters, or rotary-wing aircraft, in 1998, after Desroche read a paper on tail boom strakes technology by NASA’s Langley Research Center. The center worked on this technology after being asked by the U.S. Army to study a problem they were having with their helicopters called loss of tail rotor effectiveness, or LTE. Using research involving techniques such as wind tunnels, tufting, and computational fluid dynamics, NASA found that the main rotor wash was being accelerated as it went around the curved tail boom. This acceleration of airflow and resultant increased pressure acted against the boom, causing a force movement disadvantageous to controlling the helicopter. This information was never commercially applied to helicopters until BLR began working with NASA. They acquired an exclusive NASA technology-transfer license to research products resulting from this data.
Currently, they make dual tail boom strakes to change the airflow around the helicopter, combating LTE and increasing stability and payload. Some 600 BLR strake-equipped helicopters have over a million flight hours by 128 operators. BLR has certified products such as the dual tail boom strakes and FastFin, available for both the military and civilian Bell helicopters and for military models including the 206 Jet Ranger, 206 Long Ranger, 205B (Huey II), 212, 412, UH-1H, and UH-1F. Currently, they are developing products for the Agusta, Eurocopter, Sikorsky, and Boeing military helicopters.
Although BLR has STCs for the physical installation of the strakes and FastFin, they are now looking to certify a change in the weight limits of the Bell 212 at higher altitudes. They are gathering the data necessary for this change by doing flight tests, quantifying their performance claims.
BLR helicopter products also work to help pilots maintain control of helicopters, which are inherently unstable. Overcoming that instability and maintaining control is the key to successful flight. Marone uses a game to explain the issue of control. “Flying a helicopter is a lot like playing the game Labyrinth, where you try to direct the path of a ball through a maze. Like the game, the key to being effective in flying a helicopter is keeping it under control. Once it gets out of control it, can go from being slightly out of control to unrecoverable very quickly.”
Testing, Testing, and More Testing
BLR’s location on Paine Field in Everett is an essential component of their success. Both Boeing and the University of Washington have testing resources BLR uses. Also, the Puget Sound area is a hub of aerospace companies, providing workers skilled in aerospace technologies.
Aluminum and carbon fiber see use in many of BLR’s product designs. Design teams consist of staff and contract engineers, usually having degrees in mechanical engineering, often specializing in structures or materials. Mike Carpenter, BLR’s chief engineer and general manager, is a civil engineer specializing in structural engineering and came to BLR as a contractor after working for several years in other aerospace companies.
As a testament to its success, in its 15-year history in aerospace, BLR has grown from 1 to 60 STC approvals, branched out from fixed-wing to rotary-wing, and become proficient at exporting. This growth has led to consideration of adding corporate offices off the airport at Paine Field, to provide a more comfortable setting in which to meet customers.
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