Curtiss-Wright at home on military, commercial aircraft

Paris Air Show » 2009
June 9, 2009, 9:32 AM

The Curtiss-Wright Corporation can trace its lineage back to the very dawn of aviation. Built on the legacy of the pioneering efforts of the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss, the company this fall will celebrate its 80th anniversary on the New York Stock Exchange. During World War II, it was one of the world’s largest manufacturers, turning out nearly 30,000 airplanes, along with engines and propellers. But now, through its Curtiss-Wright Controls division, the company’s contributions to aviation are limited to sensors, motion control and subassemblies.

On the defense side, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based firm recently announced Bristol, UK-based Claverham Ltd. (a Hamilton Sundstrand flight systems business unit) has selected it to provide multi-channel linear variable displacement transducers (LVDTs) for the fly-by-wire (FBW) systems controlling the main rotor and tail rotor on the Sikorsky CH-53K heavy lift and UH-60M helicopters. LVDTs are special pressure-sealed linear displacement transducers embedded in Claverham’s primary flight control actuators. 

The transducers provide electrical signals that are proportional to the position of the hydraulic actuator rod. The actuators form part of the fly-by-wire control system, which changes the rotor pitch angles on the main and tail rotors in response to the pilot’s commands during flight. The company will supply these products from its Christchurch, UK operation. The two defense programs have a potential contract value in excess of $20 million over a 15-year period with shipments expected to begin this year.

Sikorsky itself awarded the company a contract to develop and supply the data concentrator units (DCU) for the CH-53K currently under development for the U.S. Marines. “The data concentrator units we intend to supply Sikorsky for CH-53K helicopters represent the latest rotorcraft contract bolstering our core military aerospace business,” COO David Adams told AIN. Curtiss-Wright Controls’ system consists of two DCUs that will receive and provide various avionics and air vehicle discrete, digital and analog inputs for monitoring, passing through data and controlling various CH-53K subsystem components.

The units will be supplied by the company’s City of Industry, California facility, which recently opened to accommodate the growth in demand for integrated sensing products. The contract has an overall potential value of $22 million when development and all aircraft production options and phases are completed. The initial contract runs through 2011 with the production phase starting in 2013.

Curtiss-Wright is also involved in the F-35 joint strike fighter program, with products including position sensors, leading-edge flap actuation systems, ordnance-hoist and quick-latch systems, solenoids and transducers among others. “We’ve got quite a nice position on the F-35 and we feel fortunate” said Adams. “We look at some of that backup created by the [winding down of production of the] F-22 as being made up by the F-35.”

In the commercial airline arena, Curtiss-Wright Controls products are well represented. “We pretty much fly on every single platform that Boeing or Airbus produce in one way, shape or form,” said Adams, noting that the firm has contributed to aircraft programs ranging from the Airbus A380 to the Sukhoi Superjet 100.

It continually searches for synergy between its defense and commercial offerings. “We don’t like to reinvent the wheel. For example, you take the weapons bay door on one of these fighter attack aircraft and you utilize that technology on the commercial side or vice versa. They both have heavy-lift requirements and both are environmentally tough but one just works a slightly different performance parameter than the other.”

Today the firm is keeping its eyes fixed on possible opportunities from two of the newest commercial aircraft programs–the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787. So far it only has a modest presence on these as a subcontractor to others. As an example, the company last year received a contract from Saab Aerostructures to supply the large cargo door mechanical system for the 787.   

Curtiss-Wright Controls has seen its sales grow (due largely through acquisitions) from about $125 million in 2000 to $626 million in 2008, but like most companies dealing in the aerospace industry, it has not been immune to the current economic downturn. “It’s affected us like everybody else,” said Adams. “One effect we had last year and then into the beginning of this year was the Boeing strike. By the time we got into the first quarter the strike was over, but some of our customers had lingering inventories and so they are burning those off and will certainly see a thinning out as we go through the balance of the year.”

While the company has had a large presence at the Paris Air Show in the past, this year Curtiss-Wright Controls will be conducting business as part of the Kallman-U.S. Pavilion in Hall 3. “For probably the last seven years, we’ve had a level of participation that has grown, particularly at Paris where we would normally have a rather large stand and a nice chalet, but to be honest, we’ve taken a look at not only the majority but probably all the aerospace companies exhibiting and we decided that we would curtail some of our activities,” said Adams. “This is just a real tough year obviously for the world, so we elected to do that. You do these a year in advance basically and so we’ll [soon] be making another decision on what we do for Farnborough next year.”

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