National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Aircraft

Picture of NASA Flight Test Aircraft

High Temperature Sensor and Control Electronics

Silicon carbide electronics and sensors that could function mounted in hot engine and aerosurface areas of advanced aircraft would enable substantial weight savings, increased jet engine performance, and increased reliability.

Complex electronics and sensors are increasingly relied on to enhance the capabilities and efficiency of modern jet aircraft. Many of these electronics and sensors monitor and control vital engine components and aerosurfaces that operate at high temperatures. However, since today’s silicon-based electronics technology cannot function at high temperatures, these electronics must reside in environmentally controlled areas. This necessitates the use of long wire runs between the sheltered electronics and the hot-area sensors and controls or the fuel-cooling of the electronics and sensors located in high-temperature areas. Both of these low-temperature-electronics approaches suffer from serious drawbacks, as the wire runs add a substantial amount of weight, fuel cooling has harmed aircraft fuel efficiency, and both have negatively impacted aircraft reliability.

A family of high temperature silicon carbide electronics and sensors that could function in hot areas of the aicraft would alleviate the above-mentioned technical obstacles to enable substantial aircraft performance gains. Some aircraft design studies have indicated that harsh-environment silicon carbide based distributed control electronics could eliminate the majority the wiring and connectors that are otherwise needed in conventional sheltered-electronics aircaft control systems. This is extremely crucial given the fact that wiring and connector problems are the most frequent cause of propulsion maintenance action and downtime in commercial aircraft today. In addition, uncooled operation of silicon carbide power electronics could also save weight and increase reliability by replacing hydraulic controls and fluids with “smart” fluid-free electromechanical controls. Even in non-hot areas of an aircraft, silicon carbide electronics would enable the elimination of electronics cooling systems, such as the liquid cooling system employed in the F-22, that add weight and reduce operational reliability of high-performance aircraft.