Dubai Air Show

A350 XWB program continues apace

 - November 12, 2009, 12:13 AM

Spain has approved loans worth up to $520 million for subcontractors working on the Airbus A350 XWB twin-aisle twinjet or on its Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine. The loans are separate from any other financial support that Spain provides for the overall program. Major A350 partner nations France, Germany and the UK are providing a total of $4.3 billion toward the $17.6 billion project, with Spain expected to contribute about a further $441 million.

The A350 sees Spain doubling its work share compared with previous Airbus programs to 10 percent, with Germany and the UK taking reduced shares. The move is regarded as compensation for Spain’s aerospace assets having been subsumed into Airbus parent group European Aerospace Defence & Space (EADS) in 2000. By contrast, Britain will produce just 18 percent of the A350, compared with 20 percent for the A380.

Airbus appears to be keeping to its development schedule for the A350, which is expected to fly in early 2012 and to enter service with Gulf-based Qatar Airways in mid-2013. Continuing the commercial aircraft trend of the past 50 years, the mainly carbon fiber aircraft will offer greater capacity than did its A300/A310/ A330/A340 predecessors and could replace the larger Boeing 777, according to Airbus.

The new aircraft–to be available in three variants–will accommodate passengers up to 10 abreast in a broader cabin (hence the XWB acronym, for extra wide body) that will permit one more seat per row than all previous Airbus twin-aisle designs. For almost 40 years Airbus regarded its initial 222-inch widebody fuselage diameter as a “magic dimension,” although for Dubai’s Emirates Airline cabin width was a factor in its selecting the Boeing 777 (but the A340-500 for ultra-long routes).

With manufacturing of the first aircraft already under way, the wider-bodied A350 program is gathering momentum. The project is the European manufacturer’s response to market demand–defined by capacity, range and operating cost. The clean-sheet design includes a cabin “effectively about five inches wider [than that of the Boeing 787] at all measurement heights,” claims Airbus.

The airframe including undercarriage will be composed of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) composites material (53 percent), aluminum/aluminum-lithium alloys (19 percent), titanium (14 percent) and steel (6 percent). CFRP is being used for its fatigue strength and noncorrosion properties in the wings, center wingbox, tailcone, fuselage skin and doubler panels, frames and stringers, and passenger and cargo doors. Titanium is employed for high-load fuselage frames, door surrounds, engine pylons and undercarriage, all areas where corrosion resistance is important.

Ahead of full production start-up, Airbus is using a “large demonstrator” to test A350 manufacturing methods for the wings CFRP elements. The so-called “Demo box 2,” whose size is more than 60 percent that of the A350’s wing, is being used to check ease of component assembly.

The box is one of several demonstrator structures Airbus is using to “test, harmonize and validate” manufacturing methods and tooling. In August, the OEM rolled out the second A350 composite-fuselage demonstrator, which is described as a close reflection of the final design and is being used to develop and validate the complete process chain.

Airbus is not yet ready to reveal the A350’s rear-galley design, which is being reworked to accommodate airline feedback.

Several Year-end Deadlines

On other questions regarding recent progress, the manufacturer referred AIN to the A350 master schedule, from which it is inferred that first metal-cutting and fuselage-panel layup, which is due late this year, and manufacture of center wingbox parts and completion of detail design–both slated for early 2010–are on track. The schedule calls for Airbus to have begun parts manufacture, cut first metal–for the tailplane cruciform–and laid-up the initial composites fuselage panel before year-end.

Systems and cabin development and manufacture of tooling and parts also are under way and will continue through 2010. Fuselage, wings and empennage aerodynamic lines, systems architecture and cabin design–sans the rear galley–for the A350-900 were frozen in late 2008.

Tooling, jigs and long-lead items all have been launched this year, which also has seen continuing refinement of pylon and nacelle lines. By the end of the year, similar freeze points should be reached for the shorter-body A350-800 and for the stretched -1000 model by mid-2011.

Airbus expects A350 final assembly to begin in early to mid-2011 ahead of static- and fatigue-specimen testing, which should start in about two years. First flight is slated for early 2012, followed by entry into service in mid-2013.

In a move to ensure reliability and to minimize modifications during the subsequent flight-test program, Airbus will use a digital mockup, as well as synthetic and real testing of system functions before the A350 flies, since by that time many A350 airframes, assemblies and subassemblies will be in production.

The manufacturer also has unveiled some A350 systems plans. The aircraft will sport the “brake-to-vacate” and runway-overrun protection systems pioneered on the A380. The braking equipment uses satellite positioning and on-board systems to inform crews of slowing distances to preferred runway exits and to manage deceleration according to runway surface conditions.

The runway-overrun warning and protection system takes account of speed, location, temperature, wind and runway elevation; calculates landing distance; and warns if available remaining distance becomes too short. If the pilot cannot go around, an automatic override function would bring stop the aircraft in the shortest possible distance with brakes and reverse thrust.

The A350s Class 2+ electronic flight bag will allow crew laptop computers to dock with cockpit hardware for operation via on-board keyboard cursor controls. The set-up offers a fixed integrated keyboard and screen with removable central-processing unit and memory, said Airbus. The electronic centralized aircraft monitor, as well as electronic flight-instrument, flight-management and on-board information system displays are on identical screens and are interchangeable.

The manufacturer confirms that all key program suppliers/partners have been selected and manufacturing facilities are being built. Goodrich is to develop fuel nozzles for the Trent XWB engines, while Pacific Scientific Aerospace is to provide cargo bay fire suppression systems, which will use 3M’s Novec fire-fighting agent instead of Halon.

For Airbus UK, construction firm Morgan Ashurst will build a $112 million wing assembly factory that is due for completion by next October. Four months ago, Airbus and four Chinese partners began to construct the Harbin Hafei Airbus Composite Manufacturing Centre, which will begin to make A350 composite structures by the end of next year, eventually providing 5 percent of the aircraft’s composite content.

In October, Airbus contracted French-based NFM Technologies, which is 70-percent owned by the Chinese NHI group, to design and produce jigs to transport A350 sections from various European manufacturing sites to Toulouse for final assembly. Simultaneously, Spirit AeroSystems broke ground in St. Nazaire, France, for a factory that will assemble 65-foot-long A350 Section 15 composite center-fuselage sections following their shipment from North Carolina, where Spirit also will produce forward wing spars.