The new Boeing Dreamliner which costs over USD 200 million is made out of composite materials. Two thirds of its aluminium body parts were traded for components, produced from a new, much lighter material – carbon reinforced plastic. Part of the Boeing 777 tail is produced from carbon fibre – the material that Airbus has been using in its aircraft for several years now. Almost the entire A350 is manufactured using composite materials only. These materials are becoming concurrent not only in the new generation aircraft production, but also in the MRO sector and aircraft maintenance training processes.
‘The ordinarily used aluminium constructions are being rejected by manufacturers as airlines are increasingly demanding to produce aircraft which are more fuel efficient and cheaper to maintain. Lighter construction materials allow carriers to reduce aircraft fuel consumption by 20 per cent. With composite materials manufacturers can cut the aircraft design and production costs as well as extend the aircraft service life. Fewer clinchers and other screws reduce the overall aircraft weight,’ explains the Deputy Head of FL Technics Training Dainius Sakalauskas.
Designing and manufacturing aircraft is a considerably slow and complicated process. Although aircraft exterior has not changed much since the first models, the interior has been modified and made a lot lighter. Most of the hydraulic aircraft parts and systems controlling the landing gear or wings have been traded for much lighter electric components. Modern engine screw blades are produced from composite ceramic materials that reduce the weight of the aircraft. ‘Nowadays there are already aircraft that are designed with engines in their back – it allows contracting the tail by around 70%. Aircraft contain a number of complex computerized systems controlling wing management elements that can entirely compensate for the lack of the tail,’ says D.Sakalauskas.
The use of composite materials marks an important step in the process of transition towards new generation aviation. Along with the changing aircraft manufacturing technologies one may observe new tendencies in aircraft technical maintenance training practice. It is highly likely that in the nearest future MRO employees will be required to have the knowledge of working with composite materials and structures too.
‘Composite parts’ maintenance requires a lot of accuracy and attention to detail. Engineers must be able to alter the shape and surface of such aircraft on a microscopic level, by using nanotechnologies. All surface micro-asperities are to be smoothed away with special materials. Only recently engineers were concerned with more radical form adjustments only – both on a macro and a micro level. Nowadays an aircraft engineer is required to spot irregularities not even visible to the naked eye. The common maintenance practice that was acceptable by the MROs and airlines several years ago, at present is considered as insufficient. Highly qualified technicians who keep abreast with new technologies will simply become of vital importance,’ says D.Sakalauskas.