Institute for Aerospace Technology
  • Print
Professor Pat Wheeler

Case study

Cleaner Skies

Electrifying air travel

Professor Pat Wheeler and colleagues

“Powering everything electrically has enormous advantages and potential cost savings.” 
Professor Jon Clare


How can we lessen the impact of air travel on the environment?

At the moment, aircraft use a combination of four different types of energy: pneumatic, hydraulic, mechanical, and electrical.

Professor Pat Wheeler and colleagues in the Power, Machines and Controls Research Group are working on a series of research projects to try to reduce the energy used by aircraft in all areas besides propulsion from four to just one: electrical.

“Having four different sources of power going around your aircraft is adding to the weight of the aircraft and adds to the complexity. One of the moves is to make the aircraft more electric so that we only take one source of power from the engine for all the things that aren’t just moving the aircraft,” says Professor Pat Wheeler


The aerospace industry has come up with some goals that it would like to meet by 2020. Part of the European response to that is called the Clean Sky Joint Technology Initiative (JTI). By looking at the type of energy system an aircraft uses, researchers at the University hope to counteract the environmental and financial costs of air travel. One aspect of this is the Power, Machines and Controls Research Group’s work on power converters and power electronics.

Powering everything electrically will have enormous advantages in terms of cost and environmental impact. Current electrical generators are heavy and bulky and aircrafts also generate a lot of energy that they don’t use. The group are developing new technologies which will reduce the weight of the aircraft and control the deployment of energy, reducing the amount of fuel needed to run the aircraft and the amount of energy wasted 


This research incorporates a broad spectrum of areas, including electrical networks and circuits, prognostics and diagnostics, and thermal management. Other University projects include electromagnetics, advanced manufacturing, polymer composites, non-destructive evaluation and thermo-fluids. The research portfolio includes two Rolls-Royce University Technology Centres (UTCs), in gas turbine transmissions and manufacturing, and a strategic partnership with General Electric (GE) on advanced electrical power and actuation systems, co-funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).


The group is working closely with GE Aviation, which set up a University Technology Strategic Partnership (UTSP) at Nottingham in advanced power and actuation. This is funded equally by GE Aviation and EPSRC. The UTSP is in partnership with the University of Warwick.  The team is also supporting GE Aviation with the investigation into the potential use of electric motor control and drive equipment for steering and retraction, under a Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) funded project known as ELGEAR.

In addition, the University was closely involved in the European-funded More Open Electrical Technologies (MOET) project led by Airbus, in which the University led the formation of the Academic Initiative for More Electrical Aircraft (AIMEA) partnership with Bristol, Manchester and Sheffield universities. AIMEA secured £3.5 m funding, £1.3m of which was assigned to the University.

University academics work in partnership with most of the world’s leading aerospace companies, including Rolls-Royce, GE, Airbus/EADS, Boeing, BAE Systems, Bombardier, GKN and Goodrich

Scale of research

With over 90 members the Research Group is the largest of its kind in the UK and one of the largest in the world. The University already has a portfolio of aerospace research worth £35m spanning more than 70 separate projects.


The group has £18m in funding, including the core UTSP funding of £1.5m through EPSRC and Smiths, and £1.3m through the University’s AIMEA partnership in addition to the European funded MOET project. The Clean Sky JTI is worth over €10m to the group.



Dr Hitendra Hirani, EU Business Development Manager

+44(0)115 95 13988

Institute for Aerospace Technology

Aerospace Technology Centre
Innovation Park
Triumph Road
Nottingham, NG7 2TU