Airbus A400M wing – with SA components – passes critical test


Airbus Military says the all-composite wing of its A400M airlifter that contains number of South African designed and manufactured parts, has passed the ultimate-load up-bend test – the critical static test required for certification.

During the test, performed in the presence of two representatives of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the wing was subjected to a load equal to 150% of the maximum bending load (limit load) predicted to be encountered in service. The wingtips of the full-size A400M static test specimen moved upwards 1.41m (4.6ft) during the test which was completed at Airbus Military´s Getafe, Madrid facility on July 22.

South Africa’s Denel Saab Aerostructures (DSA) is the design authority for the load-bearing wing-to-fuselage fairing (pictured) at the root of the wings as well as the top shells that cover the top of the wing over the fuselage. The company is exclusively responsible for the production of so-called top shells for the centre fuselage section of the A400M, which it had also designed and developed. Engineering News’ Keith Campbell has picturesquely called these as being equivalent to roof panels. The DSA says this is one of the largest composite-metallic hybrid structures on the aircraft. “This part’s main function is to provide aerodynamic efficiency over the wind box, as well as protecting critical aircraft systems.” DSA is contracted to produce two top shells for each aircraft – one in front and one behind the wing box that joins the wing to the fuselage.

In addition, it is making very large wing-to-fuselage fairings, manufactured mainly from composite materials but including aluminium parts. The Engineering News notes each fairing is 15m long, 7m wide, and nearly 3m high. Airbus Military adds the fairing is the largest single aerostructure component ever produced in Africa. To make the parts, DSA obtained accreditation from the US National Aerospace and Defence Contractors Accreditation (NADCAP), making it the first company in the southern hemisphere to obtain such certification for composites production.

In addition to the wing-to-fuselage fairings an topshells, DSA is also contributing centre wing box structural components. A contract to make ribs and spars for the tail fin was recently cancelled.

Speaking after the test, Airbus Military senior vice president and A400M chief engineer Alain Cassier said the “successful test represents a major achievement for the A400M programme on its route to certification. We are all delighted to have passed this key milestone in the structural test programme, which further confirms the soundness of the A400M design.”

The A400M wing is assembled at the Airbus plant at Filton, near Bristol in the United Kingdom. Airbus says its static test programme will continue in Madrid, Spain, until the middle of next year, while full-scale fatigue tests will be conducted on another test specimen in Dresden, (Germany) beginning later this year.