Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Glory of the Airbus A380 is in it's Wings....

The Glory of the Airbus A380 Is in Its Wings
By Merrick Maye

The Glory of the Airbus A380 Is in Its Wings
By Merrick Maye
The wings start in two factories in Wales specially built for the purpose. 32, 000 components are shipped in from all over the world - from every continent except Antarctica, to make the A380's wings. The wings themselves are technical marvels; they have to provide flight control, and carry the massive fuselage, and carry the engines which weigh 6. 5 tons each, some thirteen tons on each wing. They also have to carry 260, 000 tons of fuel inside ten interior fuel tanks; they are one of the most critically important structures of the plane.
The wings start as sheets of aluminum which need to be fashioned into the correct shaped panels, with each wing needing ten panels apiece. Each piece has its own shape and weight requirement, and is prepared on a computerised machine for precision construction. The aluminIum sheets are shaved electronically, and this can take 3 days eliminating up to 75 percent of its weight. This will get the sheets to the correct thickness though still keeping them strong. Then it is ready for the oven. The panels are placed in a special metallic container known as a form. The form is vacuum packed with a massive sheet of plastic shrink wrap and manoeuvred into a massive oven (42m long by 6m wide - each panel is 34m long) and set to bake @ 150 degrees centigrade for 24 hours. This will temper and strengthen the panel. The plastic shrink wrap is critical here. If it is torn or broken anywhere along its length, the whole job will be voided and would have to be done again.
Stringent checks are carried out before the cling wrapped panel is put in the oven, and after it comes out. This is a critical juncture. The panels have to be handled with great care.
After the panel cools down, it is checked for flaws and cracks. If it's okay - sound, it is shifted by a massive overhead crane with suckers to lift the panel; because it is 34m long and cannot be lifted manually to above head height for the next stage of its development - to the wing assembly plant just up the road. This is a massive purpose built space the equivalent of 12 football pitches - (85, 000 square meters) to where the panels can be assembled and attached to the wings' skeleton. It is while the two are being lined up to be joined together, that the curvature of the wings - the thing I find so glorious about this plane, can be seen. The assembly process takes up to 4 weeks per wing.
This is by no means the end of the preparation of these spectacular wings. It is just the first part of it. Things that fly need wings; and none are more beautifully crafted and as robust and ruggedly elegant as the A380's. Indeed, no other commercial airliner today has wings that rival or equal the A380's, though you may beg to differ... I would never agree!


                                                 Ooh! Those wings!!


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A380 taking off