While most people in aviation know Eurocopter builds a successful line of turbine helicopters, few probably know that the company’s Donauwörth, Germany facility produces more than two-thirds of all Airbus doors or that Eurocopter Deutschland is the prime door contractor for the A380 megaliner. In fact, Eurocopter Deutschland holds more than 30 active patents in the field of airplane door production.
It is in this area that the company is making technology breakthroughs with composite materials. Recently, Eurocopter Deutschland announced it had produced what it says is the world’s first all-composite, one-piece airplane door. By injecting resin into a special mold, the company was able to manufacture a complex airplane door as a single piece, including all beams, frames and external door skin. The curing process took less than three hours.
Eurocopter said production passenger door structures made with its patented process will be 30-percent lighter than today’s aluminum aircraft doors. Actually, the weight savings for the door structure alone is more than 30 percent, according to the company, but associated metal components, such as hinges and locking mechanisms, add weight.
The composite airplane door the company recently produced is sized for a midsize business aircraft, though Eurocopter obviously has plans to manufacture all-composite, one-piece airliner doors. Additionally, Eurocopter Deutschland is talking with several business aircraft manufacturers about supplying these one-piece doors for their airplanes, and it is studying ways to use the resin-injection-mold process in making Eurocopter helicopters.
In development for three years, the door was defined and designed under an €10 million ($12.3 million) European research project, called the “full-barrel composite fuselage” program, with the odd acronym “Fubacomp.”
Fubacomp’s overall objective is the validation of highly integrated composite structures for midsize/ large business jets, supersonic jets, regional aircraft and tiltrotors. The research program’s goal is to reduce the number of fuselage parts to two or three elementary pieces.
The European project partners believe the Fubacomp program will result in an aircraft that is 20-percent lighter than conventional aluminum aircraft. Additionally, they expect to see reduced manufacturing and maintenance costs. A sister European research project, the generic composite fuselage side panel (Tango) program, is also under way.
The next step for Eurocopter is to determine how the composite door will be integrated into the Fubacomp test airframe, as well as to conduct non-destructive, static and dynamic testing. Fubacomp is scheduled to conclude next year.