100 years on, the Paris Air Show continues to impress

Composites and composites-intensive aircraft were in plain view at the 50th edition of the biennial Paris Air Show.

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The 100th year and 50th edition of the Paris Air Show, held June 17-23 at Le Bourget, kicked off with fireworks, provided not by organizers but by some fearsomely impressive lightning storms. Yet, despite fortes pluies that drenched visitors on the opening day and at intervals throughout the week, the massive and multifaceted show with 2,215 exhibiting companies from around the globe still attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors, including CompositesWorld Weekly, and provided a wealth of announcements and products.

A few of the highlights from the show included The Boeing Co.’s (Chicago, Ill., USA) introduction of a new 787 Dreamliner version, the 787-10. Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager, airplane development, said at a press conference that the new model will be 18 ft/5.5m longer than the 787-9 version (now in final assembly), and will transport 300 to 330 passengers up to 7,000 nautical miles/12,964 km, a distance that Boeing says covers 92 percent of worldwide twin-aisle routes/city pairs. According to Fancher, the new version will be 25 percent more efficient that similarly sized aircraft today, thanks to a combination of the larger size, engine configuration and the high-efficiency wing design, and will be the most efficient jetliner in history. Design has already started and flight test is anticipated for 2017, with first delivery in 2018. The 787-10 reportedly will go up against Airbus’ A350-900 and -1000 versions. Customers seemed pleased with the concept, as commitments for 102 aircraft were announced at the show, including Air Lease’s chief executive Steven Udvar-Hazy who signed for 30 aircraft. Also discussed at the same press conference was the revamped 777, which will be introduced with a larger “4th generation” composite wing. Fancher says the new wing is based on the 787’s wing design, and will be made with the same materials and aero characteristics.

Meanwhile, Boeing’s rival Airbus (Toulouse, France) diverted its first flying A350 XWB to the show on Friday 21, during its third test flight, for a dramatic wheels-up flyby. The aircraft had completed its first flight only seven days previously. The flyover was witnessed by French president François Hollande, who arrived at Le Bourget on an Airbus Military A400M aircraft, from Villacoublay French Air Force Base, southwest of Paris. (The A400M also performed daily flight demonstrations during the show; see related story in this newsletter.)  According to Airbus, it booked $68.7 billion (USD) in orders for 466 aircraft at the show. That figure comprised Memoranda of Understanding for 225 aircraft and firm purchase orders for 241 aircraft worth $39.3 billion (USD). Sixty-nine orders or commitments were for the A350, from four customers. An eye-opening order for 20 A380s came from lessor company Doric Lease Corp., worth (on paper) $8 billion (USD).

The recent resurgence in Russian aviation was reflected in the large presence of United Aircraft Corp. (UAC, Moscow, Russia), an umbrella company that includes 23 companies and design bureaus, among them Sukhoi Co. and Irkut Corp. In a formal ceremony on Tuesday morning, the first Sukhoi SSJ100 Superjet for a western customer was presented to Mexican airline Interjet. Later the same day, Irkut held a press event to showcase its narrow-body MS-21 commercial jet, with an airframe made up of 30 percent composites including a vacuum-infused wing produced by Irkut’s AeroComposit center of excellence using Hexcel’s (Stamford, Conn.) HiTape dry carbon out-of-autoclave reinforcements in an automated layup process. Customers can choose either Pratt & Whitney or United Engine Corp. (part of UAC) engines. According to Oleg Demchenko, Irkut’s president, “The MC-21 provides more passenger personal space than the 787 or the A350 XWB.” With the design frozen, the aircraft is entering production now, and testing is underway. First flight is scheduled for 2015. AeroComposit’s president Anatoly Gaydanskiy says the composite wing was designed with a high aspect ratio for better aero performance, and the lightest possible weight for the aircraft: “We have made substantial progress on new technology.”  Five wing prototypes have been produded and tested, he adds. The sleek interior was designed by Zodiac Aerospace (Plaisir Cedex, France). Irkut has 135 firm orders for the aircraft and predicts success in the marketplace. (Watch for HPC’s upcoming article about the infused wing in a future issue.)

In another briefing, Col. Greg Masiello, V-22 Joint Program manager, revealed that while the original program of record has not changed, the tiltrotor’s success in shipboard operations at sea has increased its desirability on the part of many nations. Masiello is overseeing the effort to build additional aircraft beyond the original program numbers for sale to international partners, including Canada, Japan, Israel, Italy and potentially many more.

Flaris (Podgórzyn, Poland), an offshoot of a family-run company called Metal-Master, surprised everyone at the show with the introduction of a previously-unannounced, very light jet, the Flaris LAR-01. The all-carbon composite, 5-seat, single-engine jet with detachable wings and short takeoff and landing (STOL) characteristics has already entered testing, and the company is aiming for U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification by 2015. Composite components are apparently being produced with tier partners, according to the company Web site.

On the composites-specific front, ITT Exelis Aerostructures’ (Salt Lake City, Utah), vice president and general manager Mike Blair spoke with CompositesWorld about his company’s first appearance at the show as a standalone business. With the first phase of its expansion in Salt Lake City now fully operational, the company is prepared to leverage its heritage experience and expand into new programs and markets, with a strong focus on lean and cost-effective manufacturing, says Blair. The recently-commissioned 250,000-ft2/23,226m2 facility near the Salt Lake City airport (with room for expansion) has an automated tape laying (ATL) machine from MAG IAS (Hebron, Ky., USA) as well as automated fiber placement capability, a new 15-ft by 50-ft (4.6m by 15.4m) autoclave, and seven Breton large machining centers, as well as braiding and resin transfer molding (RTM) equipment. Unveiled at the show was an exclusive joint venture with Belgian company Bodair (Oupeye, Belgium), for high-speed filament winding of carbon/epoxy rods and struts for aircraft programs. The proprietary equipment designed by Bodair can reportedly produce 40,000 parts per year, adds Blair.

Elbit Systems – Cyclone (Karmiel, Israel) showcased its cost-reduced “one-shot” resin transfer molding (RTM) method for producing a fastener-free, monolithic composite control surface without core. Using dry carbon fiber materials and epoxy resin, the patented method embeds and geometrically locks composite fittings into the main structure, which then are co-cured during processing. The process eliminates any assembly of structural parts, says Eitan Cohen, senior director of business development and marketing for the company, and provides a highly efficient and fastenerless aerodynamic surface. Elbit Systems has also developed a way to produce composite winglets in a similar manner to replace metal, for a 30 percent part weight savings on an unnamed customer’s aircraft.

Watch for our full airshow report in the upcoming September 2013 issue of High-Performance Composites (HPC) magazine.

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