Friday, November 17, 2006

Leahy: A350 Launch Pending

It's been widely reported that the launch of the New! No! Better than new! Metal! No! Composite! No! Better the way only we Europeans can do it! A350WXB is pending this month. A few details have leaked out. According to Da Festung's chief cheerleader and salesman deluxe John Leahy, the aircraft will, indeed, be built of carbon fiber composite material, but unlike the integrated construction methods that Boeing is using, the A350WXB will be built using individual panels. This, Leahy says, is to facilitate repairability.

Further, he mentions that the Airbus engineering staff are convinced that the integral fuselage construction model is not the way to go and that easily replaceable panels are what is needed. I assume that this must be the three college student engineers in Finland who unaccountably did not get sucked into the A380 toilet.

This doesn't make a lot of sense. The integrity of the construction method is what eliminates the need for numerous heavy support structures in composite construction. It sounds as if Airbus will be merely substituting one skin material for another over structure, without taking advantage of the enormous strength potential inherent in integrated composite construction methods.

And that seems to be a bad way to go about it because it's the difference between true monocoque construction like the Supermarine Spitfire and scabbing covering over structure like the Hawker Hurricane. When we're talking about repair that necessitates replacing entire skin panels in large commercial aircraft anyway, those aircraft are either a) likely near the end of their economic life anyway or b) have been involved in accidents that necessitate large scale reconstruction of a problematic and time consuming nature.

The composite crowd over at Boeing are not the unschooled rookies and backwoodsmen that it is fashionable to refer to Americans as over in Europe. We heard this sort of thing before from Da Festung a couple iterations back when they said: "A composite A350? Never happen. Nope. Not in this life. You Americans don't know how to do it. When it's done you will really see us show you how it's done."

I'm quite sure that Boeing has composite structure repair procedure well in hand. So one wonders why Airbus wants to espouse this method of construction.

The answer seems clear-it's a lack of confidence. They don't believe it'll work and they're afraid of the technology down deep where it counts, and they don't want to invest the kind of money it'll take to do it the right way.

They just flat don't believe in the technology, and that's kind of sad coming from a company that boasts about its engineering prowess.

Stay tuned.


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