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The A350 XWB is first to use 'out-of-autoclave' cured composites

15 March 2013

GE's Hamble-le-Rice, UK plant has delivered its first composite wing parts for the Airbus A350 XWB (extra wide body) aircraft, including composite panels and aluminum alloy rib assemblies and fittings.

The Airbus A350 XWB at Toulouse (photo courtesy of Airbus)
The Airbus A350 XWB at Toulouse (photo courtesy of Airbus)

The 3,000 components will form the fixed trailing edges of the aircraft’s wings.

Modern composites are frequently produced by laying one sheet of carbon fibre embedded in resin on top of another. Heat is applied, the parts are pressurised with inert nitrogen gas, and finally cured in autoclaves to eliminate voids and harden the parts - a complex and expensive process.

Engineers at the GE composite plant in Hamble-le-Rice, Hampshire have optimised a new method of manufacturing composites that does not need autoclaves. They originally used the method a decade ago to mould lightweight carbon composite parts for luxury sports cars.

The process, called out-of-autoclave curing, gets the same results by exposing composite parts to vacuum that draws out entrained air bubbles. The A350 XWB will be the first large civilian aircraft in production using such components.

The new A350 XWB, which Airbus hopes to introduce during the 2013 Paris Air Show in June, has more than 50 percent of structural parts made from composites.

GE is also using a variety of composites to make its jet engines. The new GEnx and GE90 engines have both fan blades and fan case made from carbon fibre composites.

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