Charles Fiterman, engineering alum, wins Boeing innovation award

Charles J. Fiterman, an environmental control systems expert with Boeing and an Iowa State College of Engineering alumnus, has won two of that company’s annual Special Invention Awards recognizing excellence in engineering innovation.

Fiterman was recognized for his work on two teams that developed major improvements to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, their newest and most energy efficient twin-engine jet airliner. The awards were announced Oct. 30 in Seattle, Wash.

Fiterman helped invent a new system that allows aircraft to save fuel, lower engine emissions, and improves cabin air quality with higher humidity levels and lower airborne contaminants.

The air conditioning system is the largest user of secondary power from the engines, and requires up to 400 kilowatts of power to perform its function while at cruise altitudes, Fiterman explains.

“The large — each 100kw in size — electric compressors and motor controllers used to perform the task have never been utilized in aerospace applications to this extent,” he says. “To keep them in a form that is beneficial to the airplane size and weight along with maintaining system reliability proved most challenging.”

He helped develop an electric-based secondary power system architecture, which allows the airplane to generate, distribute and consume energy more efficiently by avoiding excessive energy extraction from the engines.

Finding a system that extracts much less secondary power from the engines compared to a traditional environmental control system was a big engineering hurdle, says Fiterman.

“A traditional way is to utilize engine air in the compression stages of the engine to ‘feed’ the air conditioning system that is ultimately used for cabin temperature control and cabin pressurization via air conditioning units,” explains Fiterman. “This method often entails using air that has been over pressurized by the engines for most operations of the flight envelope. By developing an electric-based aircraft system, we are able to utilize only the amount of energy that is needed to perform this task.”

Fiterman earned his bachelor of science in engineering science and mechanics in 1985. He joined Boeing in 1986, and has been with the company’s air conditioning department ever since.

Fiterman says his comprehensive engineering education at Iowa State paved the way for his achievements.

“The background of thermodynamics and electrical control systems were the backbone of my career in developing such systems for aircraft. I was able to take a broader approach to problems that spanned across multiple disciplines due to the diversity of education I received as part of my degree at Iowa State,” Fiterman says. “It quite honestly was the best fit for my job and the achievements I have made over the course of my career.”