Airbus Industrie is considering manufacturing the fuselage and wing of the A3XX from materials not yet used on transport aircraft, as part of its bid to ensure that the 480/650-seat aircraft is competitive with the Boeing 747-400 and its planned developments.
Recent statements by the consortium reveal that it is becoming more committed to the use of GLARE, a fibre metal laminate which has been under development for 10 years, and aluminium lithium (AlLi), which has returned to favour as doubts over damage tolerance and crack propagation are overcome.
A third material, carbonfibre, is already in common use in Airbuses for the empennage, and is due to carry out the same function on the A3XX, but on a larger scale, because the tailplane will be as big as the wing of an A310. The material is also to be used for the first time in the keel and rear pressure bulkhead of the A340-500/ 600.
Airbus has already made clear its desire to use GLARE, which weighs 15-25% less than conventional alloys, for some or all of the fuselage skin panels. It is also studying the material's use on the A340- 500/600, although this will have to await a forthcoming series of structural tests on 15m-long sections of A3XX-width fuselage barrels.
The consortium is developing AlLi with Russian industry, along with one-piece casting and welding technology, which is more efficient than riveting. The material offers a 10% weight saving and is likely to be used in the stringers and ribs of the fuselage, in extruded form, brazed or laser welded.
Airbus says that airline support for its A3XX programme remains "outstanding" and refutes talk of further delays to the aircraft because of the Asian crisis.
The programme, which has already been delayed a year to allow for the introduction of new technology, is "on target for entry into service in the third quarter of 2004", says the consortium.
A new £5 million ($8 million) low-voltage electromagnetic rivetting machine has been installed at British Aerospace Airbus' Chester, UK plant. The new riveter automatically drills more than 8,200 holes in each top wing panel for A320 family aircraft.
Source: Flight International