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Across the aviation industry, companies are looking at ways to reduce aircraft weight in order to reduce fuel expenses. Through numerous aircraft applications, composites are playing a key role in this movement.
(Published on May-June 2006 – JEC Magazine #25)
Alightweight, eight- to nine-seat business jet called the Spectrum 33 has made its first flight, and it could have a significant impact on the aviation industry. Part of a joint effort by Spectrum Aeronautical and Rocky Mountain Composites, the jet is significantly lighter than most of its type and requires far less fuel.
The founder and chief executive officer of Spectrum Aeronautical, Linden Blue, believes that the flight of the Spectrum 33 marks an important point in the company’s development programme. He said, “Weight reduction is key to boosting fuel efficiency and lowering operational costs. The first flight of the Spectrum 33 is testament to the dedication and hard work put in by an extremely talented team.”
Composites reducing weight and fuel requirements
The jet’s wings and fuselage are constructed with a carbon-graphite composite manufactured by Rocky Mountain Composites called fibeX. Company president Craig Simpson believes the use of this material will spur a large advance for the aviation industry.
fibeX is a modern carbon-fibre/epoxy material that the company developed after years of research and innovation with resin formulation and lay-down processes. Its main advantage is that the finished laminates offer much more precision and quality than traditional materials such as aluminium. fibeX can be directly applied to an aircraft part or cut into sections that can be laid-up in a mould.
Commenting on the matter, Mr Simpson said, “The material and processes used to build the aircraft represent a major leap forward in aircraft structures technology, compared to conventional aluminium airframes and existing composite techniques.”
High performance marks
Despite its lower weight, the Spectrum 33 has many of the performance attributes of similar airplanes in its class. It cruises at 415 knots (768km/h) and can fly a distance of 3,218 kilometres. The most important aspect is that it consumes about half as much fuel as aircrafts with the same range and speed.
Based in Spanish Fork, Utah, Rocky Mountain Composites specialises in new technical approaches to filament winding, fibre-reinforced composites and tooling.
It deals primarily with the aerospace, aviation and medical industries.
Its pilot during the test flight, William Davies, said, “The acceleration and climb performance of the 33 is remarkable. It has excellent takeoff and landing characteristics.”
The only downside noted by Davies was the aircraft’s pitch control, which he felt was not optimal. As a result, the engineers have said they will modify the plane’s flight control system in order to increase the pitch control authority.