Aeroelastic design of a lightweight distributed electric propulsion aircraft with flutter and strength requirements
Distributed electric propulsion is a promising technology currently being considered for gen- eral aviation-class aircraft that has the potential to increase range and performance without sacrificing low-speed flight characteristics. However, the high-aspect ratio wings enabled by distributed electric propulsion make these designs more susceptible to adverse aeroe- lastic phenomena. This thesis describes the development of a gradient-based optimization framework for aircraft with distributed electric propulsion using structural and aeroelastic constraints. The governing equations for the coupled aeroelastic system form the basis of the static aeroelastic and flutter analysis. In this work, the Doublet-Lattice method is used to evaluate the aerodynamic forces exerted on the wing surface. In order to consider the impact of propeller-induced flow on aerodynamic loading, a one-way propeller-wing coupling is com- puted by superposition of the propeller induced velocity profile calculated using actuator disk theory and the wing flow field. The structural finite-element analysis is performed using the Toolkit for the Analysis of Composite Structures (TACS). The infinite-plate spline method is used to perform load and displacement transfer between the aerodynamic surface and the structural model. Instead of utilizing a conventional flutter analysis, the Jacobi-Davidson method is used to solve the governing eigenvalue problem without a reduction to the lowest structural modes, facilitating the evaluation of the gradient for design optimization. This framework is applied to different configurations with distributed electric propulsion to minimize structural weight subject to structural and aeroelastic constraints. The effect of flutter constraints, wing aspect ratio, and electric propeller quantity are compared through a series of design optimization studies. The results show that larger aspect ratio wings and more electric motors lead to heavier wings that are more susceptible to flutter. This framework can be used to develop lighter aircraft with distributed electric propulsion configuration that satisfy strength and flutter requirements.