The use of flow control (FC) technology on civil transport aircraft is seen as a potential means of providing a step change in aerodynamic performance in the 2020 time frame. There has been extensive research into the flow physics associated with FC. This paper focuses on developing an understanding of the costs and design drivers associated with the systems needed and certification. The research method adopted is based on three research strands:
1. Study of the historical development of other disruptive technologies for civil transport aircraft,
2. Analysis of the impact of legal and commercial requirements, and
3. Technological foresight based on technology trends for aircraft currently under development.
Fly by wire and composite materials are identified as two historical examples of successful implementation of disruptive new technology. Both took decades to develop, and were initially developed for military markets. The most widely studied technology similar to FC is identified as laminar flow control. Despite more than six decades of research and arguably successful operational demonstration in the 1990s this has not been successfully transitioned to commercial products. Significant future challenges are identified in cost effective provision of the additional systems required for environmental protection and in service monitoring of FC systems particularly where multiple distributed actuators are envisaged. FC generated noise is also seen as a significant challenge. Additional complexity introduced by FC systems must also be balanced by the commercial imperative of dispatch reliability, which may impose more stringent constraints than legal (certification) requirements. It is proposed that a key driver for future successful application of FC is the likely availability of significant electrical power generation on 787 aircraft forwards. This increases the competitiveness of electrically driven FC systems compared with those using engine bleed air. At the current rate of progress it is unlikely FC will make a contribution to the next generation of single-aisle aircraft due to enter service in 2015. In the longer term, there needs to be significant movement across a broad range of systems technologies before the aerodynamic benefits of FC can be exploited.