Aerostructures specialist GKN (Booth No. C7127) is looking to leverage its expertise in commercial airliner technology to break further ground in the business aviation world. The UK-based group is promising breakthroughs that could shave hundreds of valuable pounds off aircraft structural and system weights.
According to GKN technology director Rich Oldfield, the company has entered a new chapter after winning roles in several key bizav programs. Earlier this year, Honda selected it to build the entire composite fuselage for the new HondaJet, and Dassault announced that it will use GKN to make wing-moving surfaces for its Falcon models. Meanwhile, Gulfstream continues to work with GKN on future wing research.
“The Dassault program is the first new program that we have won out of Filton,” said Oldfield, referring to its wing factory near Bristol in England, which it acquired from Airbus last year. “The HondaJet is a good opportunity to get into fuselage manufacturing; it’s an interesting space we can go into and expand.”
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Oldfield pointed out that with the next completely new commercial airliner programs likely to be some years away (with Boeing and Airbus, in particular, choosing to re-engine their narrowbody aircraft), regional and business aviation offer far more opportunities to apply next-generation technologies to new platforms.
Examples of this abound. “We can offer manufacturers a complete portfolio,” Oldfield told AIN. “On the composites side there is a focus on low-cost, high-rate manufacturing processes, which we want to make accessible to the bizjet guys. Lots of technology from our commercial and military programs is applicable.” He believes that a step-change reduction in manufacturing costs of 20 to 25 percent could be achieved, “depending how radical you want to be. Other technology will also become applicable; for example’ the HondaJet is clearly a laminar-flow aircraft,” he said. “We have new coating technologies, sensing and damage protection, and ‘ice-phobic’ coating for which we are currently testing formulations.”
This could eliminate de-icing systems, saving power and weight in what he described as a “cascade effect” in terms of both improved aircraft performance and also by avoiding peak demands on aircraft power. “There is always a cascade effect–for example, when you need power for the landing gear is also when you need power for de-icing,” added Oldfield, referring to the sort of “worst-case scenarios” that have to be built into aircraft designs.
GKN can draw on vast experience, encompassing the following programs: the Boeing 787 floor structures (and the composite front fan case for the General Electric GEnx engine that powers it); Airbus A350XWB wing spar, flaps and cabin windows; fuel tanks for Predator UAVs and the EC135 helicopter; engine nacelles for regional airliners like Bombardier’s Dash 8 family; and other engine work including acoustic nacelle linings and turbine blade manufacturing.
Oldfield highlighted what he called “additive manufacturing,” such as powder build-up techniques that it has developed in conjunction with Rolls-Royce for turbine blades, as representing probably the most promising future technology. This eliminates wasteful machining away of material from the blade structures. “We are close to being able to do with metals what we do with polymers already, making designs more easy to modify, for example,” he said.
Despite GKN’s strengths in composites, Oldfield said there are good reasons why these materials have not become as prominent in business aircraft designs as they have with larger airliners, mainly because the performance benefits they bring are not as significant. This is why metals such as aluminium alloys have held their own in bizav, which is fine by GKN because it believes that metals can represent smart technology too.
“There are some very interesting things happening with metallics, such as friction stir welding, which may be about to find its way onto more new products,” explained Oldfield. These materials also have other advantages, such as less waste, the use of existing manufacturing infrastructure, ease of repair, impact resistance and the ability to conduct lightning. What’s more, rising oil prices are pushing up the cost of composite materials because energy is expended at both the processing and manufacturing stages, meaning that OEMs are essentially “buying the oil twice.”