Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Harnessing Aircraft Engineering For National Development

Dr. Solomon Iliya Zakwoi
Dr. Solomon Iliya Zakwoi

It is common knowledge that Nigeria’s venture into space technology has opened untold vistas of technoscientific innovation for sustainable development. It is strategically repositioning Africa to harness the transformative capacities of the fourth industrial revolution, 4IR.

Since inception, the research and development activities of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) have been thoughtfully designed to be stimulus of economic development, structural transformation in Africa, and thereby, secure the lives and livelihoods of Nigerians, and indeed Africans.   

With renewed vigour, under the leadership of the newly appointed director-general, Dr Halilu Shaba Ahmad, the agency seeks to maximally use space technology to address development impedances such as insecurity, food insecurity, climate change, natural disasters, deforestation, et cetera. These would contribute to achieving President Muhammad Buhari’s vision of lifting ten million Nigerians out of poverty, and making Nigeria safer for sustainable developments.

The Federal Government, on April 24, 2017 approved the creation of the Advance Aircraft Engineering Laboratory (AACELab), Gusau, Zamfara State.  Stated pointedly, AACELab evolved out of NASRDA’s leading activity centre, Centre of Space Transport and Propulsion, CSTP, Epe, Lagos State.

In today’s knowledge economy, any nation that seeks to make innovation the driving force of her development agenda must duly accentuate the centrality of aerospace engineering. Hence, the creation of AACELab, is a tribute to the visionary leadership of Mr. President, and his unwaning commitment to the indigenization of aerospace technology for irenic coexistence and economic advancement.

The successful launches of Nigeria Sat-I, Nigeria Sat-I1, Nigeria Sat-X, NigCom Sat-I, and NigCom Sat-IR demonstrate that NASRDA has capabilities in designing, building, and launching different flight vehicles.  Building on this legacy, and aiming to transform Nigeria’s monolithic economy, NASRDA, is now doing its utmost to harness the potential of aircraft engineering. 

Many people outside the industry may not know that the difference between spacecraft and aircraft engineering is like the difference between six and half a dozen.  Aerospace engineering is a term used to designate their fusion and their critical intersections: aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering. Similarly, they both entail avionics, which focuses on their electronic aspects.

The lab was created to provide solution to one of the problems slowing down Nigeria’s development, which is lack of advance research in aircraft engineering. As the lab develops indigenous capacities to develop aircraft engines, and   maintenance facilities, Nigeria will again play leading roles in aeronautics engineering in Africa.

To achieve these lofty aspirations, AACELab engages in advance research and development in the core areas of turbine engines, airframes and wings, combustion of fuel combination, avionics and control, aircraft communication system, and space vehicles material engineering analysis.

 Furthermore, AACELAB conducts advance research and development in civil aviation aircraft (trainer version), thrust generating materials, wind tunnel simulation, navigation guidance and control.

AACELab understands the centrality of collaboration and institutional linkages to achieving her mission, which is to develop aircraft engines related to space transport vehicles and enhance Nigeria’s space programme, thereby, provide sustainable solutions to plethora of existential dilemmas.  To accelerate Nigeria’s development, the lab is exploring collaborative ventures with key players in aerospace industry within and outside the nation.  For example, it is working closely with the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, to forge new vistas of development in aero space sector.   

Translating AACELAB’s vision into reality can be accelerated with better funding. It is sad to note that the lab, which is a hub of innovative research for national development is encumbered by paucity of funds.  For example, in 2020, the lab got zero allocation. One implication of this is that it deaccelerates the pace of development in the lab, and by extension, in the nation.

However, the boundless confidence of the director-general, Dr Halilu Shaba Ahmad that AACELab will overcome the challenges associated with paucity of funds is a source of inspiration to the executive coordinator, AACELab, Engr. (Dr.) Solomon Iliya Zakwoi, who tirelessly channels his leadership and research prowess to translate the vision of the lab to reality.

In fact, to overcome the challenges of insufficient capital for space development, the DG, is strategically enlarging NASRDA’s community of stakeholders, and educating them on the significance of robust funding to achieving the mandate of the agency. 

Another critical drawback confronting the nascent lab is its usage of a rented premises. The inability to move to its permanent site due to poor funding has hindered the installation of heavy-duty machineries.  For example, it is impractical that its proposed hanger would be domiciled outside its permanent site.

Similarly, the human capacity development agenda of the lab cannot be achieved without ample funding. It is pleasing to note that the lab has some of the youngest and best aerospace engineers. The patriotic sacrifices of these engineers who were trained in some of the best universities in the world, and have highly lucrative job offers outside Nigeria are uncommon. One way to incentivise their unparalleled patriotism is to send them on advance trainings. This will ensure they remain relevant in a very fast-changing industry.  

With improved funding, AACELab will become a subregional powerhouse of development in aircraft engineering. The benefits that will accrue to Nigeria when this feat is achieved are enormous. First, it will be a revenue saver and earner. For, there will be significant reduction of capital flight, as aircraft maintenance capabilities in Nigeria will improve significantly.  It will be a revenue earner as the lab will conduct test for private sector players in the aviation industry, and beyond.  Also, it will lead to the creation of jobs in the formal and informal sectors.

In view of the foregoing, it is imperative that all lovers of Nigeria in exalted positions of power should do their utmost to ensure the politics of funding does not suffocate the spirit of innovate research and development to death in AACELab.

Dr. Solomon Iliya Zakwoi is the national coordinator, Advance Aircraft Engineering Laboratory, Zamfara State.

Dr. Solomon Iliya Zakwoi and Omozuwa Osamwonyi
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