Denel Saab Aerostructures (SAAB), based in Kempton Park is responsible for the design and manufacturing of a vital component on the massive four-engine turboprop aircraft which recently made its public debut at the Farnborough Air Show in England. The Wing to Fuselage Fairing (WFF) was designed from scratch at DSA and is locally produced using predominantly local technology and labour.

DSA is the only component manufacturer outside of Europe and Turkey involved in the project and the South African flag is prominently displayed on the cockpit of the massive transporter currently undergoing advanced flight testing in challenging conditions.

The first operationally-ready Airbus A400M — codename Grizzly, serial Number MSN 0006 –will be ready for delivery in accordance with the earlier deadlines recently provided by Airbus. DSA’s contribution was an outstanding achievement to this critical delivery, says Roland Diem, Project Manager at DSA.

The Airbus A400M was commissioned to meet the need for heavy airlift capacity that can transport modern military equipment and humanitarian relief supplies into inaccessible global hotspots. The aircraft has a payload capability of more than 30 000 kg, a range of 8 710 km and can land and take off in less than 1 000 metres.

Mr Diem says the Wing to Fuselage Fairing is an essential part of the aircraft that provides protection to the sensitive equipment under the centre wing portion against lightning strikes, hail damage and bird strikes. The WFF is made up of 86 composite panels and doors and some 1 100 metallic sub-structural parts and is designed for ease of systems installation and maintenance.

The local DSA team were given the task to design the WFF from scratch and its proposal was accepted by the Airbus programme management team. Although South Africa cancelled its own order of eight Airbus A400M aircraft the work packages remain with DSA. The company also manufactures the aircraft’s Top Shells which are positioned in front of, and behind the wings where it is joined to the fuselage.

Mr Diem says during the evaluation of the first prototype it became apparent that the aircraft was about 12 000 kg over its target weight. All suppliers and component manufacturers were required to reduce the total Aircraft weight by some 7 000 kg. In the end a combined saving of only 700 kg was achieved of which DSA was responsible for more than 130 kg – without compromising safety or functionality.

Subsequent load loops resulted in significant changes being required to the design and build of the aircraft. DSA were tasked to make the relevant changes to the WFF MSN0006 baseline to ensure structural integrity and safety was maintained. The initial indications were that the redesign could take up to three years to complete, without any additional resources, resulting in major delays in the final production schedule.

Through the technical expertise and ingenuity of the DSA design team together with a massive integrated management team effort, this period was significantly shortened. The redesigned WFF for the MSN 0006 aircraft has already commenced delivery of Sub-sets, to the full Ship Set, in November 2010 and will be fully delivered by mid April 2011 as scheduled by Airbus. This will enable the fully assembled aircraft to take to the skies in December 2011.

Full production is expected to start no later than 2016. Denel Saab Aerostructures expects to produce up to a maximum of 2, 5 WFF units per month from early 2016.

The Airbus A400M is a joint project between France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Belgium, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom.

“Our participation in the Airbus production process is testimony to the ingenuity of our engineering team and the quality of our workmanship,” says the CEO of Denel Saab Aerostructures, Ismail Dockrat. It has brought significant benefits to the local aviation industry and confirmed South Africa’s status as a reliable supplier and innovative design partner.


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