Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Composite Airbus Approaching Final Assembly

Wired: Several large composite pieces for the new Airbus passenger jet have been delivered over the past month as the airplane maker prepares for assembly of the first A350XWB. The new airplane is expected to make its first flight sometime next year and is a competitor against Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. Both the A350XWB and 787 feature significant use of composites. But each company chose very different ways to incorporate the materials into the airframe.

The upper cover for the wing is pictured above being loaded into the famous Airbus Beluga transporter. The company says it is the largest single piece made of carbon fiber used in the civil aviation market. The upper wing cover is flying today from Germany where it is fabricated, to the wing assembly plant in the United Kingdom. Earlier this month Airbus delivered the composite central wing box and fuselage keel beam to its fuselage assembly plant in France.

Airbus plans to fly the A350XWB for the first time in 2012. Slightly larger than the 787, the A350XWB also features composites throughout the design. In addition to the composite wings and tail sections, both airplane feature composite fuselages, though they are built using different techniques.

The 787 uses single piece composite barrels that are joined together lengthwise to form the fuselage. Airbus initially planned to use traditional aluminum structures for the fuselage of the A350, but opted to go with composite panels over a composite frame for the fuselage. The method of construction is similar to current aluminum airliners, but with just four large composite panels for each section. The two sides, top and bottom panels will form an ovoid fuselage on the A350XWB.

Airbus says it has 567 orders for its new airplane and hopes to deliver the first one in 2013. The first of 821 787 Dreamliners on order is expected to be delivered later this month.

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