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Continuous Composites creates LCAA wing under AFRL's contract

13
Apr '21
Pic: Business Wire
Pic: Business Wire
Continuous Composites has succeeded in making a Low Cost Attritable Aircraft (LCAA) wing under an Air Force Research Laboratory’s two-year Wing Structure Design for Manufacturing (WiSDM) contract through Lockheed Martin. The project is based on a new structural design paradigm to bring down costs and lead times for attritable airframe structures.

Continuous Composites’ patented Continuous Fibre 3D Printing (CF3D) technology successfully printed the structural carbon fibre spars of the wing assembly. Structural performance was demonstrated when the completed wing box was statically tested and achieved 160 per cent design limit load (DLL) before the compression skin buckled. The spars did not fail.

The programme included a range of technologies focusing on innovative materials and manufacturing processes, including CF3D to print the spars, long fibre injection molding for ribs, additively manufactured tooling, automated fibre placement for skins, autodrill and robotic assembly. Continuous Composites printed two 8-foot-long, 4-pound, carbon fibre tapered C-channel spars. This novel approach to composites manufacturing features in situ impregnation, consolidation, and curing, resulting in significant cost and lead time reduction. The fully automated process features cutting and refeeding, enabling ply drops and variable part thickness within the structure.

The final wing assembly was delivered to the United States Air Force to undergo static load testing. The fully assembled wing was loaded to 160 per cent of Design Limit Load. No measured or visual damage to the CF3D printed spars was detected. The printed carbon fibre spars achieved a 60 per cent fibre volume fraction with approximately 1 per cent to 2 per cent voids.

“The successful work with Continuous Composites and AFRL’s focus on CF3D for this project not only advances new 3D printing technology but also offers the potential for aerospace-grade composite printing in high-performance industries,” said John Scarcello, senior manager, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. “We recognise this process is paving the way for broader applications within both defence and commercial applications, and Lockheed Martin plans to be part of that future of advanced manufacturing.”

Ray Fisher, Air Force Research Laboratory programme manager, commented, “CF3D presents an innovative manufacturing technology that shows great promise to be both low cost and agile to the production rate and responsiveness requirements to realise attritable airframe structures. The success of this LCAA project shows great opportunity for additive manufacturing with customised CF3D material solutions that can orient structural fibres optimally. It is especially attractive to avoid expensive tooling in manufacturing aerospace structural parts. I look forward to additional opportunities to incorporate CF3D in increasingly complex structures that are further optimised for attritable enabling production.”

“This project is one application where CF3D showcases the significant cost reduction and design freedom while exceeding the stringent mechanical properties required for aerospace,” concluded Tyler Alvarado, chief executive officer, Continuous Composites. “Our team is very appreciative to Lockheed Martin, the US Air Force, and other partners for including CF3D in this LCAA project. We are taking the next steps to select our long-term DoD prime partner while engaging the Air Force as evidenced by the upcoming announcements of our key involvement with AFRL PiCARD programme in parallel to a five-year CRADA.”

Fibre2Fashion News Desk (SV)

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