'Intelligent' polymers used in next generation air-to-air refuelling system

The integration of smart electronic systems into materials is slowly moving from the world of Formula One to more robust aviation applcations. This can be seen in a new, next-generation, air-to-air refuelling system.

Icon Aerospace, a specialist in engineered polymer products and a leading supplier of refuelling hoses to Tier 1 suppliers and air forces across the globe, has developed a key enabling technology to create the first 'Intelligent Connector' for in-flight refuelling. The IconIC hose system draws on the company's pioneering approach and technical innovation in mechatronics and polymer-to-polymer technology, to safely and securely accommodate power with telemetry cables and fibre-optics for data transfer – something previously considered unattainable. This provides for a range of key control and communication functions to take place between a tanker and receiver aircraft while the receiver aircraft undergoes mid-air refuelling. The technology is able to play a key role in enabling precise, remote positional control of the refuelling hose, particularly appropriate as the use of unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) and autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (AUAVs) continues to grow. The integration of data transfer capability allows for diagnostics, reprogramming and a host of other functions. Calvin Tan, chief technology officer of Icon Aerospace, says: "The IconIC refuelling hose system opens up a whole array of possibilities for functions such as drogue location and hose positioning as well as computer diagnostics and on-board reprogramming. The integration of power supply and data transfer capability heralds a new era in hose technology which, while developed for advanced flight systems, has applications across many markets including wind power generation, oil and gas and ship-to-aircraft." At the end of the hose is an embedded termination collar that connects into a 'clamshell' user-defined interface, switchable in flight, into which a variety of functions can be integrated depending on user requirements. Tim Pryce, chief executive of Icon Aerospace, says: "Icon has consistently invested in technology and particularly in aerospace applications. We are all immensely proud of this innovation, which is being extremely well received by the major global players in the sector." Icon has more than 60 years' experience of in-flight refuelling component technology, development and manufacturing. The company has always been at the forefront of innovations in materials, processes and mechatronics, meeting the exacting standards set by integrators and Tier 1 suppliers. Icon's Flexiflow products are currently widely established as the refuelling systems of choice for leading tanker platforms across the globe. The company also currently produces Flexiflow, and in-flight refuelling hose. Icon Polymer has designed and manufactured safety-critical in-flight refuelling hoses for military applications for over 30 years. During this time, it has worked in close partnership with end-users and suppliers to deliver solutions that optimise weight, durability and flow rate within the restricted confines of an aircraft.