Spirit launches A350 component production

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Spirit AeroSystems is preparing to start building Airbus A350 fuselage and wing components at its new composites centre in Kinston, North Carolina.

At the plant's grand opening ceremony on 1 July, Airbus chief executive Tom Enders promised that Kinston will see more work from Airbus in the future, potentially from the US Air Force's KC-X tanker programme, should Airbus win.

At full capacity, the 46,468m2 (500,000ft2) facility, adjacent to Kinston Regional jetport, could manufacture 10-13 fuselage sections and forward wing spar components a month, says Enders. The A350's fuselage will be built in three sections by three different suppliers, with each section composed of four or more composite panels that are attached to fuselage frames and stringers.

This is a fundamentally different construction approach to the one Boeing has adopted for the 787 with its four fuselage barrel sections created using a spinning mandrel.

787 composite nose sections, spirit aerosystems 
 © Spirit AeroSystems
Spirit currently produces the composite nose section for the Boeing 787 in its Wichita facility

In May 2008 Spirit was awarded the contract to build the A350's fuselage Section 15, a 19.8m (65ft)-long, 6.1m-diameter composite structure that is centred above and around the wingbox. Section 15 comprises six composite panels: a crown, two sides, a forward lower panel and two lateral junction panels.

Spirit's work package also includes the composite 910kg (2,000lb), 32m-long front spar for the A350s wings, which is composed of three sections that will be built in Kinston and shipped to Spirit's Prestwick, UK plant to be assembled and attached to the wing leading edges that are built in Prestwick.

Spirit plans to ship via boat the A350 wing components to Prestwick and the 4,080kg Section 15 components to a new Saint-Nazaire facility in France for assembly. The 4,645m2 Saint-Nazaire facility will officially open on 23 July, receiving the first components from Kinston in the first quarter of 2011. Spirit is also providing the two floor panels for Section 15.

Daniel Wheeler, vice-president and general manager of the Kinston facility, says Spirit had originally looked at building all four sections of the fuselage, but found that it "couldn't get [the other sections] to work from business point of view".

Spirit has nine facilities in six countries, producing the composite nose section for the Boeing 787 in its Wichita facility.