The NGCW programme will develop design and manufacturing technologies to enable the production of aircraft that are lower in weight and use less fuel. (Picture © egd.)
The NGCW programme will develop design and manufacturing technologies to enable the production of aircraft that are lower in weight and use less fuel. (Picture © egd.)

The Next Generation Composite Wing (NGCW) initiative is being heralded as one of the most significant aircraft research and technology programmes launched in the UK for several decades. Its aim is to develop technologies which will lead to the design and manufacture of aircraft which weigh less and are more environmentally friendly. Optimising the weight and design of aircraft will improve their efficiency and performance, and burning less fuel will result in lower operating costs and lower gaseous emissions to atmosphere.

Taking into account the increasing use of composite materials in civil aircraft, NGCW will also help to ensure the UK has the skills and capability to design and manufacture in composite materials.

Of the £103 million total funding going into the NGCW programme, £52 million is being privately funded by industry. A further £25 million comes from the Technology Strategy Board, a public body established by the UK government to promote, support and commercialise technology of benefit to UK business. The remaining £26 million will come various regional organisations throughout the UK.

Partners

The three-year project brings together a total of 16 organisations, both industrial companies and research bodies.

“NGCW reconfirms Britain as a centre of excellence for wing design and manufacture," according to Tom Williams, Executive Vice President of Airbus, which is leading the project. "This programme, along with continued investment in research and technology in composites, is key to the sector's competitiveness and success in tackling future technology challenges.”

Airbus in the UK leads the Airbus Centre of Excellence for Wing and Pylon from its main wing design and engineering base at Filton, near Bristol, and its large wing manufacturing and assembly plant in Broughton, North Wales. A total of around 13 000 people work at these two sites.

The company's Head of the NGCW Programme, Dave Phipps, reports that the project will focus on high volume manufacturing of composites.

“This three-year research programme is focused on getting the most out of composite materials when we take into consideration high volume manufacturing," he explains. "The programme will build upon, develop and enhance current knowledge both in the materials and especially in enabling rapid and cost-effective manufacturing whilst maintaining their excellent weight performance and the eco-efficiency benefits these bring.”

Another NGCW partner Bombardier Aerospace, Belfast, will be focusing on optimising the overall design and manufacturing processes needed to produce a composite wing, with the emphasis on reducing weight, aerodynamic drag and life cycle costs. It will explore ways that will enable high volume, more cost-efficient production, and a more integrated approach from design through to manufacture.

“Participation in this programme will help us to further enhance our skills and capabilities in the design and manufacture of large composite structures, particularly wings, thereby helping us to compete successfully in the international market place,” explains Michael Ryan, Vice-President and General Manager, Bombardier Aerospace, Belfast.

GKN Aerospace will bring its composites manufacturing and integrated ice protection capabilities to the project with the aim of ensuring that future composite wing structures and their integrated system technologies can be produced to the necessary high standards and high production rates.

“We view the NGCW research as a key enabling programme taking the UK capability in the key area of wing manufacture forwards significantly," comments Frank Bamford, Senior Vice President of Business Development and Strategy at GKN Aerospace. "For GKN Aerospace, this work forms part of an integrated portfolio of research and development activities aimed at progressing wing technologies and manufacturing processes, and enabling us effectively to undertake a greater part of the aircraft wing assembly and integration activity for our customers”.