The project started in January and will run for the next 18 months. The aim is to leverage the consortium’s combined expertise to design, develop and manufacture an ultra-low mass, robust, proof-of-concept carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) wheel for rotary-wing aircraft.
The current global market for helicopter wheels uses metallic light-alloy materials, usually aluminum or magnesium. These offer sufficient strength and stiffness from a relatively low density.
A wheel made of CFRP will offer significantly enhanced mechanical properties at approximately half the density of metallic wheels. Compared to aluminum alloys, a CFRP wheel will be lighter, with higher performance with an extended working life.
A highly innovative step
Ed Allnutt, Managing Director of UK-based Carbon ThreeSixty, said: “The application of advanced composite materials and processes specifically to aerospace wheels is a highly innovative step.
“Our experience with other composite wheel applications has shown that weight savings of 30 to 40 per cent are achievable over forged aluminum solutions. We believe the key selling point, however, will be the improvements in fatigue life and failure mode, which will extend life and improve safety.”
Saving weight and therefore fuel
Adrian Smith, Leonardo Helicopters UK, added: “We are very keen to be involved in developing this technology. Composites are expected to save around 1.5kg over each 5kg alloy wheel. This 6kg weight saving overall represents almost 1,000 gallons of fuel saved over a typical 12,000-hour service life and equates to around 12 tons of CO2.”
The project has a total budget of around £250,000. Deliverables will include 12 fully tested proof of concept wheels, and a methodology for design and manufacture.
On the subject of composite parts in the aviation industry, Erickson has recently won final FAA certification for its composite rotor blades.