Engineers at BAE Systems production facility in Samlesbury, North West England have produced one of the world’s most advanced aircraft structures.
The structure, based on a 4:5 scale Dassault Falcon business jet front fuselage, has been made from carbon fibre, in one piece – a significant engineering and manufacturing challenge.
The fuselage, designed by Dassault Aviation in conjunction with BAE Systems, was manufactured using a technology called ‘fibre placement’ which sees individual strips of carbon fibre ‘placed’ onto a mould, rather than the traditional method of carbon fibre plies being laid by hand.
The fuselage, measuring 4.5m long by 2m (at its widest point) was produced as part of the ongoing €10.3m (approx £6.95m) ‘full barrel composites’ (FUBACOMP) programme which aims to develop European capability in fibre placement.
Simon Baxter, a manufacturing development engineer, who worked on the programme for BAE Systems said, “Traditionally a small civil aircraft fuselage would comprise of many individual components and thousands of fasteners, which would be used to attach external panels to the sub-structure. We have now managed to manufacture a single piece fuselage structure predominantly using carbon fibre and honeycomb, with foam or carbon inserts in appropriate areas for additional strength.”
Manufacture of the fuselage was carried out on an advanced mandrel, designed and built at Advanced Composites Group Ltd, Derbyshire, UK, one of the FUBACOMP partners. To achieve the required performance of the mandrel a carbon fibre construction was used, which allowed for easy removal from the component after manufacture. The mandrel was vacuum integral to allow processing in an autoclave using a vacuum bag for consolidation. Vacuum integrity was achieved using a patented dynamic seal method.
“There are a number of advantages to a composite structure.” Simon Baxter comments. “Not only does it reduce assembly costs, it also makes the aircraft lighter which increases range and/or payload. In addition, there is less of a problem with fatigue as there are no metallic parts.”
The fuselage structure has now been shipped to the aeronautical test centre (CEAT) Toulouse, France, via Dassault Aviation, where it will be fitted with windshields and bulkheads among others and undergo a number of barrage of tests including static, fatigue and bird-strike.
In addition to BAE Systems, Dassault Aviation and CEAT, other European Partners in the project were the Advanced Composites Group (ACG), Alenia, Eurocopter (France and Germany) and Brunel University.