Andrew Doyle/LONDON

EDGLEY AERONAUTICS has developed a "revolutionary" method for fabricating light aircraft, using Fibrelam structural sandwich panels, the standard material for commercial-aircraft flooring made by Ciba Composites.

The UK company has employed the technique to build its prototype mid-performance glider - the EA9, backed with funding from the UK Government.

The EA9 is constructed from the honeycomb panels, along with extruded strips and other pre-cured composite materials, which are bonded using advanced resins. Computer-numerical-control (CNC) machines are required to ensure that adequate tolerances are maintained during the manufacture of the components.

Edgley claims that the resulting structure is as light as wood, impossible to achieve with other materials except with highly expensive pre-impregnated composites such as carbonfibre composites. Construction costs are kept low because the aircraft can be built from fewer components, and there is no risk of corrosion.

EA9 designer John Edgley - also responsible for designing the Optica surveillance aircraft - says that one of the most challenging aspects was how to build the aircraft's structure from flat sheets of Fibrelam. "This has some aerodynamic drawbacks," he says, "but it produces a very light structure compared with wet lay-up composite, for light aircraft, no-one has ever managed to improve on wooden construction for weight."

Edgley hopes to find a company willing to manufacture the EA9, "...or, alternatively, to exploit the technology to design a new training aircraft".

Source: Flight International