Controlling and monitoring military engines
Fighter jets and military transporters would not be able to take off without advanced engine control and monitoring systems which, first and foremost, ensure that the aircraft do what their pilots want them to do.
10.2019 | Text: Denis Dilba
Denis Dilba holds a degree in mechatronics, is a graduate of the German School of Journalism, and founded the “Substanz” digital science magazine. He writes articles about a wide variety of technical and business themes.
The engine control and monitoring system, or ECMS for short, ensures that a fighter jet pilot always gets exactly what they want: thrust. And at the precise level indicated by the position of the thrust lever: sometimes more, for example during takeoff or aerial combat, other times less, such as during a monitoring mission or when landing. “The control and monitoring system is rather like the brain of an engine, where all the information is collected and evaluated. It uses this knowledge to make sure the aircraft can be operated safely and in line with the pilot’s requirements,” says Christian Rausch, Senior Manager System Design and Accessories at MTU Aero Engines in Munich. To this end, the ECMS continuously measures factors such as temperature, speed and pressure in addition to adjusting the flow rates of fuel pumps and geometries of stators, and opening and closing nozzle areas on the engines.
Safe component, safe operation
The control and monitoring system also performs another vital task: by drawing on the engine data, it calculates the remaining service life of the engine and its components. This helps the ground crew schedule and prepare for any maintenance work or components that might need replacing. If engine damage or faults occur during the flight phase, for example if contradictory sensor data is flagged up, the monitoring system can also limit the aircraft’s operating range for safety reasons. In this case, the pilot would be notified that they are no longer operating with the full aircraft performance and dynamics. Due to its safety-critical function, the ECMS is engineered and programmed to be extremely reliable. “Moreover, the components go through a series of highly sophisticated and rigorous mandatory tests before they reach the customer,” Rausch says.
High processing capacity, low use of space
MTU has developed control and monitoring systems for engines powering a wide variety of military aircraft, including helicopters (left: Tiger combat helicopter), cargo aircraft (center: Airbus A400M transporter) and combat jets (Eurofighter). The design of the computer technology for these applications must be as compact and at the same time as fail-safe as possible.
Four decades of experience
MTU’s expertise in designing and building this complex component is vast: over the past four decades, the company’s engineers have been involved in engine control and monitoring systems for the RB199 Tornado engine, the EJ200 Eurofighter engine, the TP400-D6 for the Airbus A400M and the MTR390 Tiger engine. Rausch and his colleagues are also working on a new concept for the control and monitoring unit to be installed in the Next European Fighter Engine (NEFE), the development of which is being led by MTU and French aviation group Safran. Due to the increasing complexity of engine sensors and actuators, the central processing unit will have to be replaced with distributed, intelligent systems in the future. “We are already working on the requisite technology,” says Rausch.
Once the electronic components have been produced, they are meticulously measured in the lab. Only when all the measurements are correct and the technology has demonstrated that it functions perfectly in complex tests and simulations is it delivered to the customer.