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Embraer flying high

Company inaugurates factory and strengthens partnerships with research centers, to develop tools that are going to facilitate its projects for new aircraft

MIGUEL BOYAYANWind tunnel at CTA: tests with a scale model of the 170 jet MIGUEL BOYAYAN

Embraer has taken a new step towards consolidating itself as one of the four largest manufacturers of aircraft in the world, by inaugurating, in June, the first stage of its industrial unit in the town of Gavião Peixoto, located in the region of Araraquara, 300 kilometers from the city of the São Paulo. The place was chosen because two factors weighed heavily in the decision: the lack of heavy air traffic in the region, which facilitates aeronautical testing, and its closeness to universities and research institutes from São Carlos, Campinas, São José dos Campos and São Paulo.

The contact with these centers has been present throughout the 33-year history of the company, always marked by the development of technology and the formation of personnel. At the beginning of its operations, in 1969, the Technological Institute of the Air Force (ITA) and the Aerospace Technical Center (CTA), both created in the 50s, were the great formers of engineers and suppliers of technological advice for Embraer.

For the new unit, the company will be transferring from its headquarters in São José dos Campos the assembly of Legacy executive jets and the AMX and Super Toucan ALX military aircraft, as well as the modernization of the F-5 fighters of the Air Force. Also provided for at the new unit is the assembly of the Mirage 2000 supersonic fighters, should the company, which has an agreement with the French companies Dassault, Snecma and Thales, win the tender for the Brazilian Air Force (FAB in the Portuguese acronym).

Alongside the installations of the new factory, the company has built the longest runway for takeoffs and landings in the Southern Hemisphere. It is already in use, for the tests of the company’s most recent model, the EMB-170, a 70-seat commercial jet that took to the air for the first time in February this year. 5 kilometers (km) in length (the runway at Cumbica International Airport, São Paulo, is 3,700 meters long), it serves as support for aviation and is essential for the tests in which the aircraft have to take off and land with full payload, brake on the runway and abort takeoffs. “In addition, around the runway there is only undergrowth and fields of crops, reducing the risks from an accident on land, should a plane have to make an emergency landing outside the usual area”, said Satoshi Yokota, Embraer’s industrial executive vice-president, on the day of the inauguration.

Embraer’s new undertaking is tied up with an agreement with the government of the state, which has lent for 35 years the 17.5 million m2 of land, including the built-up factory area of 3 million m2, plus the runway and the areas for parking the aircraft and for reforestation. The agreement, signed by Governor Mário Covas in June 2000, also encompassed the installation of networks for water, electricity, drains and roads up to the factory gates. Embraer’s forecast is that it will invest US$ 150 million in Gavião Peixoto up to 2005 and take on 3,000 employees over the next ten years.

Center for partnerships
In the agreement that the state government reached with Embraer, it is implicit that the region will be transformed into a center for aeronautical development. To collaborate with the implementation of this center and the continuation of partnerships between the research centers and Embraer, FAPESP created, in 2000 (see Pesquisa FAPESP No. 55) a special program called Partnership for Innovation in Aerospace Science and Technology (Picta). It works along the lines of the Partnership for Technological Innovation program, which finances projects involving universities, research institutes and companies. In all, the Foundation is setting aside R$ 18 million a year for Picta.Since 2001, three projects have been approved between Embraer and ITA, and one in partnership with the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe).

The first, which started in June 2001, provides for the construction of an aerodynamic testing laboratory, also called a wind tunnel, at ITA, in São José dos Campos. There is also the modernization of the existing wind tunnel at CTA, in the same city, and new equipment for the tunnel at the University of São Paulo, in São Carlos.

Wind tunnels are an essential tool for the manufacture of new aircraft. It is they that determine a major part of the aerodynamic characteristics of the aircraft. Instead of doing tests on full scale models, which would be extremely expensive, the various phases of flight are simulated in the tunnel. “To do so, we use a small scale model that is geometrically identical to the aircraft, and we submit it to a current of air, simulating the flow of the air around the airplane. The results obtained provide the best configuration for the aerodynamic profile of the aircraft and its wings, in particular of the devices for providinglift, like slats, flaps, ailerons and winglets (components of the wing and of the tail that help with maneuverability and control of the airplane), explains Olympio Achilles de Faria Mello, an engineer from CTA and the coordinator of the project, which is forecast to finish in May 2004.

When the ITA tunnel is ready and the other two renovated, Embraer will be able to carry out up to 90% of the low speed flight testing for its new aircraft in Brazil. They are flights that go up to 500 kilometers an hour (km/h) and take place on takeoff and before landing. For the time being, a good number of these tests are carried out abroad, which causes delay to the projects and high costs.

“The new laboratories will give Embraer greater nimbleness and will give the country mastery over cutting edge technology in aeronautical projects”, says the engineer from CTA. “They will make it possible to reduce the time taken to develop new projects, and, at the same time, achieve reliable results”. The transonic tests, those between 500 km/h and 1,200 km/h (the speed of sound), which simulate high speed flights, will continue to be done abroad, because the only transonic tunnel in the country, at CTA, is too small. “A tunnel like this of industrial size would cost close to US$ 80 million”, Mello says .

Numerical simulations
The second Picta-PITE project is also associated with simulations of airflows, to define the aerodynamic profile of new aircraft. But this time, besides the wind tunnels, the tool used is called Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). This system is a sophisticated tool that makes it possible to carry out numerical simulations of the airflows around the aircraft. For the time being, few companies use this technology in the country. Probably the only ones Embraer and Petrobras (in studying the flow of water over the cables and oil pipelines on the submarine platforms).

“In Embraer, CFD will be a tool aimed mainly at the phase when new aircraft are conceived. In the wind tunnel and on test flights, we will be seeking to prove the tendencies given by simulations with CFD”, explains Guilherme Lara de Oliveira, an engineer with Embraer and one of the coordinators of the project. “It would be very expensive and time-consuming to do these first simulations in a wind tunnel”, he says.

According to Oliveira, Embraer already masters the methodology for analyzing CFD, but has limited tools at its disposal for working with it. The researchers’ intention is to develop a technology fine-tuned for the company’s current and future needs. There will be countless benefits, ranging from a reduction in costs and in the cycle for developing products to technological independence and security of information in strategic restricted access areas. This implies better guarantees of secrecy for the company’s projects. Embraer expects to have the CFD nucleus in action in three years, the period forecast for the project, which started in January this year. The team responsible for the project has about 50 researchers taking part, under the coordination of engineers from CTA and Embraer.

Precision in flight
The third project provides for the development of a technology that will optimize in-flight testing for the certification of the company’s aircraft. This is a system called Differential GPS (Global Positioning System ), also called DGPS, made up of 24 satellites that indicate position in latitude and longitude. With it, when carrying out test flights, the company’s pilots will receive in the cockpit precise information about the positioning of the aircraft, and will have no difficulties in following previously defined flight paths, a fundamental condition for successful testing. DGPS is based on two GPS receivers, one in the plane and the other at a fixed base on the ground, which corrects the signals sent by the satellites, reducing the system’s margin of error from 30 meters to 3 meters or less.

The use of DGPS will bring Embraer enormous gains, reducing the costs of testing and hours of flight necessary for certifying its aircraft. “An hour of flight for certification is much more expensive than common flight, because of the paraphernalia involved, both on board and on land, for measurements, telemetry, antennas, computer processing and post-flight analyses”, says an aerospace engineer from Inpe, Hélio Koiti Kuga, who coordinates the project.

With this, it is estimated that DGPS will make it possible to reduce the hours of work required for the analysis of data on flight at takeoff and landing, as well as a significant reduction in repetitions of noise tests, necessary for the certification of the aircraft. In the noise tests, for example, the airplane has to do at least two flights over the place where the sound is measured. Today, without the assistance of DGPS, a good number of these flights are wasted, because the pilot cannot attain the necessary precision. The new system, in turn, will carry out the calculations necessary for the pilot to fly over the spot to perfection, by making the data available on a display in the aircraft’s cockpit.

The project was started in March this year, and will be finished in September 2003. When this happens, Embraer will be on an even footing with its competitors, in particular with Canada’s Bombardier, which seems to be using a similar system. “Differential GPS brings the manufacturers enormous gains, and that is why this technology is not passed on by one to the other. Each company develops its own DGPS system”, explains engineer Hélio Kuga, who has another three researchers in his team, besides the engineers and technicians from Embraer.

Mathematical models
The researchers responsible for the fourth project have an enormous challenge ahead of them: reproducing, in a numerical simulation, all the parameters related to the behavior of an airplane in flight. This is called dynamic modeling, that is, determining the parameters and the aerodynamic coefficients for stability and control of the aircraft, using in-flight testing. With these mathematical models, Embraer will have more data at itsdisposal on its aircraft, and will be able to reduce the number of tests and speed up the development of its aeronautical projects.

“Dynamic modeling defines characteristics related to the quality of flight and to the performance of the aircraft”, explains Professor Elder Hemerly, of ITA, one of the coordinators of the project. “This will make feasible an improvement in quality and a reduction in time in designing the various aeronautical systems, like the automatic pilot, the skid dampers, the flight simulator and systems to increase stability”, he says.All Embraer’s research projects under Picta-PITE have the objective of endowing the company with tools for conceiving aircraft projects and for pre-commercial operation testing. There is therefore no concern, at least at this moment, for the company to develop the most sophisticated parts in Brazil.

Like the foreign automobile manufacturers that are at work in the country, Embraer looks for parts and systems for its aircraft in any part of the globe. According to Yokota, the Brazilian content of the parts and systems in Embraer’s aircraft varies, but does not exceed 40%. “We have to be knowledgeable about all the airplane’s parts and systems, but their production does not have to be carried out here. Many components are imported by us, but the end product, the aircraft, is Brazilian. Our engineers lead the teams that take care of conceiving the projects for the aircraft”, says Yokota.

For Yokota, some parts of the airplane, like the engines, will probably always be imported. This is because there are three major manufacturers of turbines in the world, General Electric (GE), Rolls-Royce and Pratt&Whitney. To provide technical support for their customers, these manufacturers maintain maintenance services in various corners of the globe. Obviously, the cost of this technical service is not something to be belittled.

Embraer has signed 16 venture partnerships with companies abroad to develop components and systems for its new family of jets. Accordingly, instead of Embraer having to bear the full cost of conceiving all the components for a new model of aircraft, part or even all of the expenditure referring to the development of certain parts of the aircraft is financed by these partner-suppliers. “Whether the partner abroad will or will not make money depends on the success of the transfer of technology. It is not a transfer made by contact, it is through practice, where the competence of the receiver counts for a lot”, comments Maurício Botelho, Embraer’s director-president. To sum up, if the new plane is a commercial success, everyone wins. Embraer is going to sell more aircraft, and its partner, produce more components. If it is a failure, everybody loses.

Foreign market
It is not by chance that Embraer, besides being the largest exporting company in the country (with sales of US$ 2.897 billion in 2001), it is also the second largest importer purchases amounting to US$ 1.843 billion last year. In terms of imports, the company is second only to Petrobras, with oil. The foreign market accounts for 98% of the company’s sales. Its internationalization started in the 80s, when the EMB-120, or Brasilia, a 30- seat turboprop, became the first of Embraer’s aircraft to go straight into commercial operation abroad, in 1985, before being delivered to any Brazilian company.

In the second half of the 90s, Embraer put onto the market a line of small jets intended for regional aviation. Of the more than 600 units sold of the ERJ-145 (a 50-seat jet), only 15 are flying the skies of Brazil. This capacity for designing and assembling aircraft at competitive prices is certainly one of the reason’s for Embraer’s success, which makes it the fourth largest commercial aircraft industry in the world, behind only America’s Boeing, Airbus, of Europe, and Bombardier.

Privatized in 1994, the company currently invests from 7% to 8% of its gross sales in research and development, a high percentage for a Brazilian company that invests in technology, where the normal level is in the region of between 3 and 4%. In amounts, Embraer’s investment in this field is in the region of US$ 220 million a year. For this effort and the capacity for assembly shown by the company, Yokota is proud of having 3,000 engineers in Embraer’s workforce, out of over 11,000 employees.

How big Embraer will be depends a lot on the world political and economic scenario. The crisis in commercial aviation after the terrorist attacks in the United States in September last year also hit the company from São José dos Campos, which saw the number of orders fall. From a total of 161 airplanes delivered in 2001, there will be a drop to 135 this year. It is a result that does not seem to frighten the company. According to Botelho, there are great prospects for sales, for example, in China, where the company now has an office. Also heartening is the announcement, made at the end of June, of the order placed by Italy’s Alitalia, for six ERJ-145 jets, plus six EMB-170 and six EMB-190, a 90-seat jet, still being designed by the company and with its first delivery forecast for 2005.

The projects
 Development of Aerodynamic and Two- and Three-dimensional Tests for the High Performance Aircraft Project (nº 00/13769-0); Modality Partnership for Technological Innovation (PITE); Cordinator Olympio Achilles de Faria Mello – ITA; Investment R$ 1,894,300.00 and US$ 948,479.42 (FAPESP) and R$ 3,704,000.00 (Embraer)
2. Advanced Applications of Computational Fluid Dynamics for High Performance Aircraft (nº 00/13768-4); Modality Partnership for Technological Innovation (PITE); Coordinator João Luiz Filgueiras de Azevedo – ITA; Investment R$ 1,665,000.00 and US$ 1,150,000.00 (FAPESP) and R$ 3,572,800.00 and US$ 105,000.00 (Embraer)
3. Development of a Differential GPS System For Positioning and Guiding Aircraft inReal Time (nº 01/08751-8); Modality Partnership for Technological Innovation (PITE); Coordinator Hélio Koiti Kuga – Inpe; Investment R$ 67,935.00 and US$ 218,117.00 (FAPESP) and R$ 583,586.00 (Embraer)
4. Identification of Derivatives for Stability and Control of Aircraft via Non-Linear Filtering and Stochastic Optimization: Algorithms and Applications in In-flight Test Data (nº 01/08753-0); Modality Partnership for Technological Innovation (PITE); Coordinator Luiz Carlos Sandoval Góes – ITA; Investment R$ 121,995.00 and US$ 195,525.05 (FAPESP) and R$ 908,237.50 (Embraer)