First A350 parts from Spirit to head for St. Nazaire today (Update1)

Video 1 Spirit AeroSystems St. Nazaire site vice president and general manager Dan Wheeler. Video 2 Spirit AeroSystems senior manager Jeff Russell

An Antonov An-124 landed at Kinston Regional Airport in North Carolina yesterday, preparing for a special delivery from Spirit AeroSystems. The massive Russian cargo jet will transport composite panels that will make up the first center fuselage of the A350-900 as early as today, says a source familiar with the plan. The panels will be flown to the company’s new St. Nazaire, France facility, where they will be built-up to create the aircraft’s Section 15 barrel of MSN1.

UPDATE 10/24: The first panels from Spirit were delivered on Sunday. Operating as Polet Flight 4478, the An-124 departed from Kinston enroute to Bangor on Saturday for a fuel stop before crossing the Atlantic for St. Nazaire. The Wichita Eagle reported the shipment included the two side and crown panels (shown in blue and green), while the lower panels (shown in purple) will be delivered by the end of the year. Final build-up of the center fuselage is set to begin in early 2012, pushing the Airbus final assembly target for MSN001 MSN5000 into next year.
The An-124 will likely be a rare sight in Kinston as Spirit plans to typically deliver its fuselage panels by boat to France, while its wing spars, also built in North Carolina, will be dispatched to Prestwick, Scotland on their way to Broughton in the UK. The shipment will include the 65 ft-long upper crown panel, twin side panels that include door three, and lower shells, weighing nearly 9,000lbs.

Section-15_CAD.jpgAlready awaiting the arrival of the panels is the aircraft’s center wing box, which was delivered to the Airbus St. Nazaire site on August 9. Once complete, Section 15 will move to Airbus next door for mating with the lower shell, center wing box and keel beam.

While no less of a complex supply chain compared to Boeing’s 787 operations, St. Nazaire serves an integration supersite, that will bring together the completed center section components before being flown to Toulouse aboard the A300-600ST Beluga. Despite being completely separate entities, Airbus has opted for a supersite model that places its supplier’s operation in the same area as its own activities. Notably, Spirit is the only major structural supplier on the A350 that is not either Airbus itself or one of its subsidiaries.

St. Nazaire is also responsible for bringing together the nose Sections 11 and 12, which were delivered last month from Aerolia in Méaulte, France where they will be mated with Sections 13 and 14, the forward fuselage structure fabricated in Nordenham, Germany by Premium Aerotec, another wholly-owned Airbus subsidiary. The integration and equipping of those sections will eventually create the entire flight deck and forward fuselage of the A350 before it is flown to Toulouse for final assembly.

Video and Graphic Credit Spirit AeroSystems