Paris Air Show: Composites at the year's largest air show

Albany Engineered Composites, Fokker, Latecoere, Premium AEROTEC and others emphasized composite components and structures at this year's Paris Air Show. No word from Boeing, however, about the future of the 737.

The 2011 Paris Air Show (June 20-25) featured composites in a variety of applications, ranging from engine parts to fuselage structures. CompositesWorld sent a reporter to catch up on the latest.

There was disappointment at the show for those anticipating that Boeing might respond to the re-engined Airbus A320neo by launching a composites-intensive 737 replacement. Boeing explained its strategy of using the rest of this year to make a decision, either to fit more fuel efficient engines to the existing aircraft or launch an all-new aircraft later in 2012. One option Mike Bair (VP Advanced 737 Program) is considering is a small twin-aisled aircraft to meet the needs of rapid embarkation and unloading, to satisfy the needs of low-cost carriers. These planes, however, would not use unducted fans, as there was no way of coping with a blade-off failure, due to their weight and unpredictable trajectories.

At a component level there was a great many new developments on display:

  • Composites are making continuing inroads in aero engines. The new Leap engine from CFM was shown with fan blades and case made by resin transfer molding (RTM), with pre-forms supplied by Albany Engineered Composites. On the IHI (Gunma-ken, Japan) stand, a development fan blade was on show.
  • Thermoplastic composite structures have made a big step into integrated structures with no mechanical fasteners. Fokker showed a complex wing leading edge with webs butt-joined to the skins. Displayed on the TenCate stand was a rudder with induction-welded ribs and skins, by KVE.
  • RTM was highlighted in a one-piece passenger door made by Latecoere (Toulouse, France) from tooling designed and made by Compose (Bellignat, France).
  • Out-of-autoclave (OOA) curing was on display by Premium AEROTEC (a fuselage barrel and helicopter frames), Hexcel (an unmanned aerial vehicle fuselage frame) and PPE (a very complex honeycomb sandwich panel).
  • Composites continues on its path to becoming the material of choice for omore than half of an aircraft, progressing from structures into engines and undercarriages.