For 100 years Royal NLR has been the knowledge organization for applied research making the world of transport safer, more sustainable, more efficient and more effective. With our knowledge and expertise, we are one of the driving forces behind the aerospace sector in the Netherlands and also renowned internationally. With its applied research, knowledge and facilities, NLR has contributed to various milestones in aerospace over the past 100 years.
Below are the most important milestones that have had a worldwide technological, economic or societal impact.
Establishment of NLR
The ‘Rijks-Studiedienst voor de Luchtvaart’, which was to focus on Dutch military aviation, officially opens on 5 April 1919. The RSL is the predecessor of today’s NLR. The first projects involve research into materials, aircraft structures and aircraft engines. The first wind tunnel is put into operation immediately after the department opens to gather knowledge about the flight characteristics of aircraft. The RSL also starts to draw up regulations relating to the construction and use of aircraft in the Netherlands.
The first air brakes on aircraft
In 1921, NLR puts its first research aircraft, a Fokker F.II, into operation. The wings are fitted with control surfaces that we now refer to as ‘air brakes’. Their deployment reduces the time required by the aircraft to brake to a stop after landing. NLR is the first organisation in the world to develop this technology. Since then, air brakes have been fitted to many different aircraft, including gliders.
At the beginning of the 1920s, the ‘Marine Luchtvaartdienst’ (Netherlands Naval Aviation Service) puts six new seaplanes into use in the Dutch East Indies. Violent wing vibration, known as flutter, occurs during a flight with this seaplane. NLR discovers the solution for this problem through wind tunnel research. Weight is added to the aileron, the part of the wing that causes the aircraft to roll, along the longitudinal axis. Research into flutter eventually led to new techniques for predicting the occurrence of flutter in 1978.
First Dutch helicopter: the Von Baumhauer helicopter
Aviation pioneer Von Baumhauer conducts wind tunnel research at NLR using a scale model of a helicopter rotor. He not only develops the first Dutch helicopter, his design is also the first helicopter in the world with a single rotor and tail rotor. This arrangement replaces the co-axial contra-rotating double rotor design, simplifying the controls and reducing weight.
Alternative helicopter propulsion system
NLR pioneers put ramjets to use, the simplest version of the jet engine, by attaching them to the rotor blades of the Kolibrie helicopter. This alternative helicopter propulsion system eliminates the need for a gearbox and complicated engine. The NLR’s contribution to this development takes the form of wind tunnel research, performance measurements and certification. Even though the Kolibrie does not become a commercial success, the knowledge acquired during this project is used in later helicopter research, for the Ministry of Defence among others.
Digital storage of flight data
NLR develops the first digital recorder in 1962 and applies it in KLM’s DC-8. The loads exerted on the aircraft are measured in flight and the digital recorder stores the data in real time. This significantly reduces the amount of manual processing after the flight and the risk of human error during data processing. It also offers new opportunities for aircraft maintenance as all aircraft can now be maintained based on their own measurement data. This results in less unnecessary maintenance and costs and also more reliable aircraft.
Supercritical wing profiles
A shock wave forms on the wing of an aircraft at velocities approaching the speed of sound. This effect is similar to the loud bang produced when an object passes through the sound barrier. In 1966, NLR was the first organisation worldwide to succeed in designing supercritical aerofoils, which distribute the shock wave more evenly over the wing. This contributes to more stable flying characteristics.
New wing shapes through inverse method
NLR develops the inverse method which allows designers to calculate the optimal wing shape based on the desired pressure distribution on the wing. The new method shows that high aspect ratio wings can be made thicker at the wing root – the part where the wing and fuselage meet. This results in less air resistance, a lighter structure and more space in the wing, which can be put to good use; e.g. for fuel. Aircraft manufacturers subsequently start to use the thicker profiles and the method is still used in aviation today.
More reliable information for air traffic controllers
An air traffic controller is responsible for safe, fast and orderly air traffic handling. This requires reliable information. In the 1980s, NLR develops the ARTAS tracker, a new tracking and control system that processes aircraft radar data. NLR makes it possible to accurately determine an aircraft’s position, ground speed and direction by subjecting radar signal data sets to statistical analysis and probability calculation. The method is still used today in various European ATM systems.
Enforcement of safer and quieter flying
NLR develops a new system that allows airport authorities to enforce safer and quieter flying on take-off and landing. FANOMOS, the Flight Track and Aircraft Noise Monitoring System, records the aircraft’s flight path and the associated noise pattern. Aircraft that fly outside the allocated route and/or generate more noise than the level allowed by environmental standards are warned or reprimanded by the airport authorities. This has now been combined with noise monitoring stations at the airport to create a fully-fledged environmental management system. This system is used at several airports in Europe.
First infrared astronomical satellite
The world’s first infrared astronomical satellite, IRAS, is launched in 1983. The satellite, which weighs over 1000 kg, is designed to explore the entire sky in just six months. Although IRAS is no longer in use, the data is still helping scientists make new discoveries today. NLR develops the satellite in collaboration with Dutch partners such as Fokker. NLR is also responsible for the ground operations from the United Kingdom.
First air traffic control simulator
In the 1980s, NLR develops methods and facilities for safely and efficiently handling increasing air traffic at airports and in the sky. NARSIM, NLR’s Air Traffic Control Research Simulator, is one result. The real-time simulator makes it possible to simulate the working environment of air traffic controllers in a control tower and behind the radar screen. This allows safe testing and optimisation of new and existing Air Traffic Control systems/scenarios. The system includes a very lifelike air control tower, radar system and workstations for pseudo-pilots. In addition, intensive research is conducted into training for air traffic controllers.
Satellites monitor vegetation in Africa
NLR develops ARTEMIS, Africa Real Time Environment Monitoring using Imaging Satellites, in 1987. A ground station that is unique in the world and uses data received from various satellites to produce vegetation and precipitation maps of Africa. This system generates advance warnings so that action can be taken to prevent famine and plagues of desert locusts. Data received from American and European satellites is processed fully automatically to produce 10-day vegetation and precipitation maps of Africa. The system has saved thousands of human lives according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
Lynx service life extension
The Lynx is put into operation by the Royal Netherlands Navy in 1975. In 2007, it is decided to replace it with NH90, however the Netherlands will not be able to take delivery of these helicopters until 2010. An alternative is required to bridge the intervening period. NLR has monitored the Lynx during its entire service life. The resulting knowledge, experience and instrumentation make it possible for NLR to have the service life of the Lynx extended by 1000 hours, to 7000 flight hours. This extension is sufficient for bridging the intervening period.
Flying drones safely between normal air traffic
A drone, also known as an RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System), can perform operations that are not possible or too risky with a manned aircraft. For example, inspecting pipelines, detecting forest fires or military applications. The aim is to ultimately integrate drones safely between manned air traffic in the sky. In 2006, NLR is one of the first in the world to develop and test a detect-and-avoid-system in its own research aircraft. This system combines two existing techniques: an anti-collision system used in civil aviation and an advanced camera system. This brings the capability of flying drones safely between normal air traffic a step closer.
Training simulations in fighter aircraft
ECATS, Embedded Combat Aircraft Training System, is a product of Airbus and NLR. The training simulation program gives fighter pilots the opportunity of practising combat scenarios with virtual opponents in the air and on the ground during a training flight. Pilots can be trained to use the extensive capabilities of the F-35 more realistically, more effectively and at a far lower cost with ECATS. And training can take place virtually anywhere and at any time.
Simulating wind conditions for helicopter take-off and landing
By letting a helicopter fly alongside a car, referred to as a pace car, while both maintaining the same speed, all wind conditions can be simulated that a helicopter experiences while hovering above a location, such as a ship’s deck. The simulation method eliminates the need for hover trials where the helicopter hovers above a location in the wind. Hover trials are more expensive and less efficient because the wind cannot be controlled.
Cooling system for an antimatter detector in space
In 2011, the AMS-02 Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is commissioned in space. This antimatter detector is coupled to the ISS International Space Station. The AMS-02 contains hyper sensitive sensors that can distinguish antimatter from other particles in space. Reliable measurement is dependent on maintaining the detector at a constant temperature. NLR is the only organisation on earth that can build this special cooling system. AMS-02 has to endure extreme temperature fluctuations as it is exposed alternately to solar radiation and the icy cold of the shadow side.
Tiltrotor: the most advanced wind tunnel model ever
In 2012, NLR develops the most advanced wind tunnel model the world has ever seen for NICETRIP, the Novel Innovative Competitive Effective Tilt Rotor Integrated Project. The characteristics of this tilt rotor, a combination of a helicopter and aircraft in one, are extremely complex. Consequently, the design of the wind tunnel model is also complex. Furthermore, the model can be remotely controlled and is equipped with working motors. NLR collaborated with other Clean Sky organisations for this project. Clean Sky is the European programme for developing cleaner aircraft.
Quieter and cleaner landings through gliding flight approaches
TEMO, Time and Energy Managed Operations, is a new method for maintaining punctuality and capacity when aircraft land on gliding flight approaches. Aircraft landing in this manner produce less noise and also consume less fuel, which reduces CO2 emissions. After airspace reorganisation, it will be possible to use the method in Europe.
NLR becomes Royal Netherlands Aerospace Centre
Since 5 April 2019 NLR exists 100 years and received the Royal predicate in honour of its 100 year anniversary. The award stands for the quality and recognition of NLR as a leading technological knowledge institute in the field of aerospace in the Netherlands. NLR can now call itself Royal NLR.
100 years of NLR and 100 years of applied research and innovations underline that NLR is among the absolute world leaders when it comes to breakthrough technology in the aerospace sector. But we mainly look ahead. Because in order to make aerospace more sustainable and lasting, we have to challenge ourselves even more. The demanding and exciting future requires an even faster speed of innovation and intensive collaboration. We are on the threshold of pioneering innovations. Royal NLR puts its knowledge and expertise at the service of that future. Our mission: zero emission flying in 2070.
This overview has been created with valuable contributions of former employees and pensioners of NLR and Stichting Behoud Erfgoed NLR.
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