Modern ECU brings Diesel efficiency to aircraft engine

April 19, 2012 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Piston engines for airplanes exclusively burn gasoline - to be more exact, heavily leaded AVGAS. While fuel-efficient Diesel engines see growing acceptance in cars, above the clouds rather old gas guzzler designs still dominate the market. Now engine design company RED aircraft GmbH has introduced a Diesel engine for small airplanes.

"As an alternative to modified car engines we developed a new Diesel-based concept from scratch", said RED CEO Vladimir Raikhlin.RED introduced its 500HP V12 turbo Diesel engine this week at the Aero 2012 trade fair in Friedrichshafen (Germany). Unlike car engines, the RED common rail engine is equipped with dual electronic controls; the two banks of the V12 engine are controlled separately. The Engine Control Unit comes from Silver Atena, a company dedicated to automotive ECUs.

Through more than 115 I/O channels, the ECU monitors and controls the same number of engine parameters, enabling the controller to detect electrical and mechanical irregularities. The ECU is equipped with an intelligent failure management and a life usage monitoring software. Another difference from usual automotive ECUs is that the aircraft ECU is designed with two completely redundant channels. "Beyond these safety aspects, the functionality is pretty much the same as in a standard street vehicle", a spokesperson of ECU provider Silver Atena explained. "The most significant difference lies in the design and certification process". The ECU complies with standards DO-178B and DO-254, to name just a few. In contrast to cars, the software for aircraft ECUs must not be altered or updated without the requirement to re-certify the unit.

According to Silver Atena, aspects such as reliability, power and fuel economy were the dominating design aspects for the ECU. The engine boasts a much better fuel economy compared to turboprops. Like these competitors, it can also burn JET-A fuel, the most popular fuel type for jet engines.

Will Diesel piston engines become a trend in aviation? This is too early to judge, explained the Silver Atena spokesperson. In any case, he sees aviation engine manufacturers to move away from heavily leaded AVGAS. And a new generation of small aircraft engines could benefit from the progress in the design of automotive engines and related electronics. "We see enormous market potential for aircraft engine control