Airbus's fanfare a few weeks ago when the first completed A350 XWB widebody jetliner came out of the paint shop was mostly a PR event. At the time, the two things the company announced were that the plane had received its final paint job, and ground tests were about to begin, with flight tests expected some time this summer. This gave us an excuse to check up on the progress of this record-breaking aircraft's production.
The A350 XWB's airframe consists of a bigger proportion of carbon-fiber-reinforced composite structures than any other commercial jet to date: over 53 percent by weight. Carbon fiber composite leader Hexcel is supplying all of the carbon-fiber composites, both prepreg and fibers, used in the plane's primary structures. According to a video made by the company, these include fuselage panels and barrel, wing upper and lower covers, wing spars, center wing box, keel beam, main landing gear door and bay, and the vertical and horizontal tail plane.
But composites are not the only materials story for the aircraft. Titanium and advanced aluminum alloys combine with carbon composites to achieve more than 70 percent of the A350 XWB airframe's weight in non-traditional materials. This plus a new aerodynamic design are aimed at reducing fuel consumption and operating costs by 25 percent compared to other aircraft in the same category of midsized, widebody, twin-aisle passenger jetliners.
This plane has a couple of possible advantages over the problems encountered by its composites-heavy predecessors, the Airbus A380 and Boeing's problem-child 787. In the first case, the advantage is experience: Airbus's chief executive Tom Enders admitted at a press briefing last year that the A380's cracked wings were due in part to not understanding carbon fiber materials and their interface with metals, and not realizing this lack of understanding, as well as a lack of the right design controls. That admission impressed me: Boeing has tended to avoid such public mea culpas.
In the second case, the advantage is also experience, but here it has to do with battery choice. Boeing's much-publicized problems with lithium-ion main batteries led Airbus to promptly conclude that it should abandon its own plan for Li-Ions and switch to proven nickel cadmium main batteries. I conclude that Airbus will probably learn from its own mistakes and the mistakes of its main rival.
Here are some highlights from the evolution of the plane's construction, including its use of composites, from the most recent events back to the project's earlier days. Click on the photo to begin the slideshow.
The first completed A350 XWB widebody jetliner, dubbed MSN001, comes out of the paint shop on May 13, 2013 in Toulouse, France, after its final painting. For the aircraft's exterior, Airbus is using an environmentally friendly, chromate-free primer, and a new base coat/clear coat system needing less paint and solvent. Less detergent will be required when the plane is washed. Interior paint will be water-based to the extent possible. This event, which followed flight-test-instrumentation (FTI) verification, marked a key milestone before the aircraft's maiden flight scheduled for this summer. Still to come: final ground tests. (Source: Airbus)
patb2009, composites have saved lots of weight which is why they've been used in military aircraft for decades. http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=235863 Yes, they're difficult to recycle, but efforts are underway to solve this problem by the time it becomes an issue for commercial aircraft. http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=235280 And the lightning strike problem is not a problem anymore. See slide 2 of this slideshow for one method and this article for others http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=253665 Design News has covered these subjects extensively: see the list of related posts at the end of the article, or search our site on 'composites'.
Excellent slide show Ann. The video was cool also. OK--I'm going to ask an "off-the wall" question. Can these airlines deduct from their expenses logo-types as advertising? Even a percentage of the cost to paint and maintain the exterior? I have always wondered if this can be done. While in the Air Force, we pondered paint vs. no paint as far as extended range. (Of course this was long before "stealth" was a priority or even possible.) As far as battery type, I think you go with tried and proven if there is any possible issue with liability or in-flight damage.
Paint and coatings do a lot of things besides look pretty, including protection of various kinds. And as several commenters mention, one of the big differences between a commercial jet and the ISS is that one is commercial and the other isn't, so there are corporate logos and branding involved with the plane.
The resin used in the composite construction is very UV degradable, and these things fly at the upper level of the atmosphere where UV intensity is significantly higher than at sea level. They need paint to protect the surfaces. Also from experience I know a small civil twin-engine airplane will add 5-10 knots of airpseed after a careful wax and buff job. I can't imaging how much speed and efficiency would be improved on something with the same square foot frontal area as Rhode Island! A good high-tech paint job should provide a suitably slick surface without the need for waxing. Also, I'd think a risk analysis of Li-ion vs NiCad would lean toward the technology that is not famous for creating a fire when there is a malfunction. NiCad may need replacement more frequently and have a lower energy density but has a much better reputation in the eyes of the media and potential buyers.
A recent report sponsored by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) focuses on emerging gasification technologies for converting waste into energy and fuel on a large scale and saving it from the landfill. Some of that waste includes non-recycled plastic.
Capping a 30-year quest, GE Aviation has broken ground on the first high-volume factory for producing commercial jet engine components from ceramic matrix composites. The plant will produce high-pressure turbine shrouds for the LEAP Turbofan engine.
Seismic shifts in 3D printing materials include an optimization method that reduces the material needed to print an object by 85 percent, research designed to create new, stronger materials, and a new ASTM standard for their mechanical properties.
A recent study finds that 3D printing is both cheaper and greener than traditional factory-based mass manufacturing and distribution. At least, it's true for making consumer plastic products on open-source, low-cost RepRap printers.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.