The moments we're made for
Take a look around. There’s a lot going on.
There’s a new rover on Mars and a long-term plan to send people there. The need for climate science – analysis of phenomena on Earth, better prediction of severe weather – has never been greater. Commercial air travel is on its way back – and it’s probably going to look and feel different from how you remember it. And keeping the U.S. and allies ahead of adversary nations and their military capabilities remains important as ever.
These are among the moments that are shaping the future of the world. And Raytheon Technologies and its businesses are working on all of them.
In each section below, see how our experts are working across the company to define a new era in aerospace and defense.
A new passenger experience
It was in the works well before COVID-19, but the pandemic practically made it a must: a way for travelers to get through the airport without having to touch things like the check-in kiosks. While that rollout came as a response to an immediate need, now it's a glimpse into what commercial flight might look like for decades to come.
The "contactless passenger journey," a major initiative for Collins Aerospace, aims to optimize every stage of air travel through the use of biometrics and real-time, AI-powered data analysis. Beyond the efficiency, the emphasis is on health, said LeAnn Ridgeway, vice president and general manager of Information Management Services for Collins Aerospace.
"Much like the safety protocols changed after 9/11 with the advent of TSA … we're expecting that same type of evolution in safety and cleanliness and the focus on health," she said.
Here's how she'd like to see it work for passengers – including herself (she's a frequent flier). It starts with booking. Whatever she's using to book her flight – an airline app, let's say – remembers her travel habits and profile information, and it locks down all the logistics of her trip. It selects the kind of seat she typically prefers. It schedules her rideshare to the airport, taking into account distance, traffic and boarding time.
"It knows that if it's a flight under two hours, I'm not taking a bag," she said.
At the airport, she makes it onto the plane without having to touch anything that doesn't already belong to her – and without having to hang around large numbers of people. On her way to security, she gets an alert on her phone: Use checkpoint B instead, because C is getting a little crowded.
On the plane, there's a lot less she has to touch – even the lavatory door opens by itself – and anything she does have to touch, like her seat, is made of anti-microbial material.
"You could see in the near future where you're going to be able to order a drink or a snack from your smartphone without having to touch any of the overhead consoles, without having to have the flight attendants walk up and down and query everybody, again eliminating that constant flow of people and interactions," she said.
The concept could play a big role in reopening international travel, particularly with respect to confirming that passengers are vaccinated and have received the requisite testing. The International Air Transport Association is championing an idea called One ID, which would use biometric recognition in place of traditional travel and health documents.
"Even your health passport can be attached to your facial recognition – all contactless, without having to show the old-fashioned yellow (vaccination) card that you used to have to show if you're going to certain areas of the world," she said. "I think we're going to see a lot of speed and progress over the next few months to make that happen."
Cutting the carbon emissions from commercial flights is a mandate that can't wait.
Aviation already produces about 2 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, and as other industries work to reduce their carbon footprint, engineers at Pratt & Whitney, a Raytheon Technologies business, are identifying both short- and long-term opportunities to lead the way in the air.
"That's always been important as part of our portfolio," said Geoff Hunt, senior vice president of engineering at Pratt & Whitney. "I think the emphasis and the clear focus on climate change over the coming decades has placed more importance in that area."
The innovation is happening on several tracks: improving engine performance and fuel economy, developing hybrid electric propulsion, the use of sustainable aviation fuels and optimizing flight trajectories to boost the operational efficiency of the fleet. And it's taking place both in the long term and the short term, with small but still-meaningful changes to the existing fleet and planes in production, Hunt said.
"In that intervening period, I've got a backlog of 10,000 airplanes yet to be produced or more, I've got tens of thousands of airplanes already in service," Hunt said. "So I have to figure out, 'What are we going to do for this next 15-year period until we get to these new technologies?'"
The near-term focus is on increasing the use of drop-in sustainable aviation fuels, or those made from feedstock instead of fossil fuels. Currently, there are seven approved formulations of sustainable aviation fuels that can be used in commercial engines, as long as they're blended with kerosene, also known as conventional Jet A fuel. Pratt & Whitney is working to get those same sustainable fuels certified for use on their own in its engines, with no kerosene required.
Another priority, Hunt said, is to improve upon one of Pratt & Whitney's signature innovations, the Geared Turbofan engine, or GTF. By allowing its turbine and fan to turn at their individual optimal speeds, the engine has made huge leaps in efficiency. The GTF has saved more than 450 million gallons of fuel since going into service in 2016, and it has cut the carbon dioxide emissions of its fleet by about 4.2 million metric tonnes.
And there's room to grow, Hunt said.
"We've only made the first generation of these engines. We can continue to optimize," Hunt said. "We can continue to extract efficiency from that gear system."
There's a longer view for the GTF as well: It can be modified to run in a hybrid electric configuration, Hunt said.
"We have designs that we're working on right now that will move in that direction," he said.
Even farther out, there's the potential to use hydrogen to power planes. Getting the engines ready for it isn't the problem; Pratt & Whitney ran engines on hydrogen in the 1950s. The big challenge is producing it sustainably, transporting it and storing it on the plane. Hydrogen needs a pressurized container, so it can't go in the wings, where jet fuel typically is stored.
"That's where the challenge to me is with hydrogen," he said. "If all of that resolves, I think the engines can get there."
Explore what we're doing to advance the future of air travel.
Missile defense is all about buying time. The sooner you detect an attack – or precursors to an attack – the more options you have to intervene.
And the best place to buy that kind of time is in space.
"You want to know in advance if people are gearing up to do some kind of test launch or, God forbid, a real launch," said Bryan Rosselli, vice president of Strategic Missile Defense at Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a Raytheon Technologies business. "When that happens, you want to know early – as early as you can – that something is happening so that you have time to respond to it. Space plays a huge role in doing that."
Even the best sensors on Earth have a blind spot: the horizon. And waiting until an attack from afar comes within their field of view isn't always optimal.
"Space provides an unencumbered view for early missile warning and tracking," said Paul Meyer, vice president of Space & C2 Systems at Raytheon Intelligence & Space. "And the best approach is a resilient approach across orbits, everything from low Earth orbit to geosynchronous orbit and beyond."
The U.S. and its allies already use systems of satellites to watch over Earth, and they're developing even more. DARPA's Blackjack constellation, for example, would speed up the missile defense response by networking multiple satellite sensors together and sending data straight to military operators, rather than to a ground station. The business is also designing the payloads for a system of resilient U.S. Air Force missile-warning satellites known as Next Gen OPIR Block 0. And on land, a Raytheon Missiles & Defense-built system known as the Early Warning Radar keeps watch above Earth's atmosphere, with a detection range greater than 5,000 km, or more than 3,100 miles.
Detecting a launch is only the first step. A successful intercept in space also requires cueing the right radars, tracking the target, distinguishing it from debris and anything else in the area, and guiding the interceptor until the moment of impact.
"Not only do you have to hit the right object in space, but you have to hit it with pinpoint accuracy," Rosselli said. "A glancing blow doesn't cut it when you're talking about a nuclear-tipped warhead."
Decades of work in missile defense have prepared the company well; now, when engineers set out to improve a system or design a new one, they have about 40 years of flight test data to work from. Raytheon Technologies' use of validated modeling and simulation – essentially, using computers to predict an interceptor's performance – has set the company apart.
Intercepting a missile is hard in any environment but even harder in space. It's harsh. It's a vacuum. There's no gravity, meaning even a minor contamination can severely compromise function; a floating speck of dust, for example, can interfere with the optics or short out a circuit. Then, of course, there's the question of getting the interceptor into space in the first place. It has to fly very high, very fast an on course, fighting gravity until there is none, then staying on the path to the target.
"That's what's so cool about what we do," Rosselli said. "That's what makes the engineering challenges and the marvels that we create so great."
Take a look at the technology that's protecting the U.S. and its global partners.