Airbus continues to evolve with the ‘test’ of time

Published on: 8th July 2016

It’s an exciting time for Airbus in the UK at the Filton site with the announcement in January 2016 of the Airbus Wing Integration Centre.

The major investment on site will support a ‘state of the art’ research and test facility underlying the fact Airbus is recognised as an aerospace leader both by the industry and for the industry. Airbus will use this facility to test and prove research and development projects that will deliver the new generation wing – the wing of the future. The facility is also set up to be flexible with labs, 3D-printing, and a reconfigurable test space with a strong wall.

Airbus at Filton is a hub for aircraft wing design and testing so this is the perfect place for this facility. Airbus design and test the structure of the wings here, as well as the fuel and landing gear systems that go inside them. Furthermore, we work with Airbus Group Innovations on 3D printing and conduct materials research at the National Composite Centre nearby in Bristol. The new research and test facility which will be operational in 2018 will support further high value design synonymous with the region. The Airbus Filton site not only includes world class engineering but first class facilities which help to reinforce the South West as a major aerospace regional hub.

The Airbus Filton site is already home to a number of impressive engineering test facilities. In addition to the new Airbus Wing Integration Centre, an existing wind tunnel and fuel systems and landing gear testing capability help shape an Airbus Filton site which is quickly becoming an engineering ‘test centre of expertise’ complimenting the world leading design and manufacturing capabilities that already exist on site.

These facilities although primarily in place to support Airbus activities can also be made available to benefit other aerospace companies, related industries and the wider supply chain to assist with their own bespoke engineering, research and testing requirements.

The atmospheric, closed circuit low speed wind tunnel has been used extensively for Airbus product development and a diverse range of other companies, from defence to Formula 1, for aerodynamic applications. The test section is 3.6m wide x 3m high and is powered by a 6.7m diameter fan with the maximum tunnel speed at M=0.27 (approximately 200mph). The windtunnel is equipped with highly accurate force and moment balances and both static and dynamic pressure measurement systems.

A varied range of models can be tested in the wind tunnel including full span, half span or non-aircraft related models, and higher fidelity aero component models such as landing gear are routinely tested here. The wind tunnel is staffed by an experienced group of specialists, supported by an in-house design and manufacturing team. Extensive use of on-site 3D printing services to create wind tunnel models and test pieces allows rapid configuration development providing a ‘one stop’ solution to any wind tunnel testing requirements.

The 2500 square metre fuel system testing facility allows the testing from single components such as the leak rate across a single fastener right up to the behaviour of 100 tonnes of fuel distributed across an entire aircraft fuel system. The Airbus Filton site also hosts fully operational landing gears from every Airbus commercial programme.

The test rigs integrate the landing gears within a representative structural installation and link to their associated hydraulic, electrical and avionic supplier and customer systems allowing the full integration testing of the landing gear. Support to future technologies and architectures also figure prominently with recent campaigns including development testing of electro-mechanical actuation, all electric braking, low cost distributed sensing and control using off-the-shelf microcontrollers, and complex flow characterisation.

To further reinforce the evolving capability of the Airbus Filton site a new Virtual Reality (VR) suite was commissioned in April 2016. The VR suite combines infrared tracking with some of the latest projection technology to deliver realistic three dimensional visualisation of computer models at a full size scale.

The system uses Computer Aided Design

(CAD) data from commonly used native file formats, avoiding conversion overheads or time delays.

The latest available data can be used in the VR environment, created and modified in parallel with updates displayed in real time. It is a real alternative to the traditional mock-ups once commonplace in the aerospace industry. With the ability of full body tracking and a head mounted display, a user can be immersed in a virtual environment interacting with the 3D models in a safe environment, with no disruption to the aircraft fleet or manufacturing lines and without the need for specific safety training or equipment.

The VR suite provides further ‘state of the art’ facilities that can be made available to benefit the wider business community, including companies outside of the aerospace industry.

Looking to the future Airbus at Filton is currently exploring how it can bolster its existing Additive Layer Manufacturing capabilities and more news on this will follow soon…

If you would like to learn more about Airbus in the UK, the facilities at Filton and how they can help support your company’s engineering and testing requirements please contact