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An innovative wing leading edge composite sandwich panel

News International-French

22 Oct 2014

GKN Aerospace has delivered a wing leading edge demonstrator to the Clean Sky programme, helping bring an ultra-high performance, natural laminar flow (NLF) wing closer to reality.

The integrated NLF wing leading edge has been produced through the £2.5m Ground Based Structural and Systems Demonstrator (GBSSD) phase of the Clean Sky Smart Fixed Wing Aircraft programme. This programme is maturing NLF wing technology for the next generation of low emission, high performance aircraft.

GKN Aerospace’s ground based demonstrator (GBD) is a 4.5m long by 1m wide section of flight-representative wing leading edge attached to a partial wing box assembly. The leading edge accommodates a Krueger flap in two sections. This split has allowed GKN Aerospace engineers to investigate two very different design philosophies.

The first ‘baseline’ section applies a monolithic composite skin to the traditional rib design seen on the majority of metallic leading edges today. The second ‘innovative’ section has applied a more radical design to address issues experienced meeting NLF tolerances with the baseline design. This section comprises a lightweight leading edge sandwich panel incorporating electro-thermal wing ice protection technology with an integrated erosion shield and fastener-free outer surface. Additive manufacturing processes have been used to create a novel support structure for the Krueger mechanism, replacing the aluminium ribs in the baseline design. This allows the leading edge panel to be supported by just three composite ribs: a single central rib and two closing ribs. These maintain the correct leading edge aerodynamic profile over the complete range of operating temperatures. This innovative section has a lower component and fastener count, is significantly lighter and has a greatly improved performance predictions compared to the baseline section.

The project is a collaboration between three GKN Aerospace technology centres in the UK: a team at the UK’s National Composites Centre, at GKN Aerospace in Luton and at the GKN Aerospace additive manufacturing centre (AMC) in Bristol.

The project was performed in close co-operation with Airbus: Airbus will manage the assembly of the leading edge components at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), Coventry and the integration of the Krueger flaps and deployment mechanism at the Airbus facility in Bremen.

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