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University awarded funding to investigate next generation of lightweight composite aircraft structures

Published: 15 January 2019
Copyright: Airbus
The programme grant is worth £6.9m and is led by Professor Ole Thomsen. Copyright: Airbus

A study led by the University of Southampton has been awarded a programme grant of £6.9m by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to address significant barriers in the design and manufacture of future composite aero structures.

Working closely with the University of Bristol, University of Bath and the University of Exeter, as well as industry partners, the project will look to enable more structurally efficient and lightweight airframes that are essential for meeting future fuel and cost efficiency challenges, to maintain and enhance the UK’s international position in the aerospace industry. 

Maximising advanced composite aero structures is restricted by current test, simulation and certification approaches. The programme grant, titled ‘Certification for Design: Reshaping the Testing Pyramid (CerTest)’ seeks to break this impasse by addressing the challenges that are preventing step-changes in future engineering design by reshaping the so-called ‘testing pyramid’, which is the backbone of current validation and certification processes.

The research into composite aircraft structures will look to shape the future of aviation, by driving reduced weight, cost and time for development and testing, through integration of virtual testing and advanced data-rich experimentation of aero structure components and substructures.

Ole Thomsen, professor of structures and materials at the University of Southampton, said: “This funding is essential to enable continued growth of the UK aerospace industry and take economic benefits from the opportunities inherent in the move towards more sustainable aviation, as it fills a knowledge gap, where there is no equivalent capability in the UK or internationally.

“Using world class expertise, this programme grant from EPSRC will enhance the UK position in the technical revolution that embraces new materials and processes, by addressing an urgent need in aero structures design.”
 
The Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) Technology Strategy and Roadmaps highlights a clear need for continuing improvement in aircraft efficiency, which will require step changes in performance, such as to enable moving to hybrid-electric powertrains and all-electric aircraft.

These transformative technologies will impact on every aspect of the aerospace industry, but will specifically set very challenging targets in terms of the mass of aero structures and new aero-structural forms as the industry transitions to blended wing body aircraft and other advanced concepts.

Moreover, the project will provide PhD/EngD graduates with unique and world-leading competence in testing, modelling and qualification as well as certification of advanced composite aero structures.

Professor Thomsen added: “It is not our job to certify aircrafts, but our job is to deliver scientific breakthroughs to realise the aviation sector’s visions to support their work with advanced research, with the intention to save them time and money.”

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