The delayed first flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was a moment of celebration for Midland companies which have contributed to the US plane-maker’s most technologically advanced and eco-friendly aircraft.
The region’s participation in the 787 programme involves a range of companies, each of which boast specialist skills, some of which have also played a part in some equally demanding aircraft projects such as the Airbus A380 and A350XWB, the Typhoon Eurofighter, the F-35 Lighting II and the A400M military transport.
The main gateways for supply chain participation in the 787 have been three of the region’s biggest names in aerospace:
* Rolls-Royce of Derby and Coventry, through the fuel-efficient Trent 1000 engine which powered the aircraft on its maiden flight;
* Aero Engine Controls, located in Birmingham and Derby, which produces the sophisticated electronic controls for Trent 1000;
* Moog Aircraft Group of Wolverhampton (formerly Smiths and GE Aviation), through the high lift actuation system for the aircraft’s wings.
Other leading local Midlands companies supplying components for the Dreamliner include Meggitt in Coventry and Redditch-based Mettis Aerospace which supply components to the aircraft’s alternative GE GEnX engine programme.
Mettis has also secured a contract with Hamilton Sundstrand to supply key components for the 787’s air management system.
ITPEngines UK in Rugby and Leicester is a significant supplier of software and other technology support for GE’s GEnX engine.
Hampson Industries, based at Brierley Hill in the Black Country, supplies tooling for carbon composite fuselage assemblies via one of its US subsidiaries.
Wolverhampton-based Goodrich manufactures the Dreamliner’s engine nacelle thrust reverser actuation system and the aircraft’s engine maintenance door opening system.
Andrew Mair, chief executive of the Midlands Aerospace Alliance, said: “Over recent decades, aerospace companies within our region have progressively diversified their markets, including ever-rising participation in each new Boeing programme. Our unique position in the world aerospace industry as suppliers of the most technologically sophisticated aircraft systems, from engines to electro-mechanical and electronic components, puts us in a strong position to benefit whether Airbus or Boeing is winning the global sales war.
“Our region’s contribution to the 787 is a tribute to our companies and their employees. It will create business and support jobs for decades to come.”
Pauline Pinney, aerospace cluster manager at regional development agency Advantage West Midlands, said: “The Midlands represents almost a quarter of the UK’s aerospace industry and is expertly positioned to respond to new aircraft programmes, with our 700 companies linked by common technologies, skills and integrated supply chain experience.
“Like Boeing, its partners and suppliers, we have good reason to be proud of the achievements of the 787 programme.
“Launching a new aircraft is enough of a challenge, but to do so using so many new materials – composites comprise roughly 50 per cent of the airframe – is something else altogether.”
Karl Smith, head of defence and aerospace programmes at Industry Forum, a Birmingham-based body that is helping aerospace supply chain companies to improve their competitiveness, said: “Aerospace is vital to the UK economy and is second in size only to the US.
“It’s contribution to the economy, both regionally and nationally, is enormous.”
Boeing has so far booked orders for a record 800 Dreamliners from more than 50 airlines and the first aircraft are expected to be delivered to customers by the end of 2010.
* The Trent 1000 is itself a major technology programme and includes components from many other Midlands-based specialist companies, such as Bulwell Precision Engineers, Bromford Industries, Burcas, C & H Precision Finishers, Clamonta, Eaton Aerospace, G&O Springs, Jet Blades Engineering, JJ Churchill Engineering and Manthorpe Engineering.
Rolls-Royce selected Aero Engine Controls in Birmingham to develop a next generation engine electronic control (EEC) system for the Trent 1000. The new EEC is lighter, more reliable and boasts six times the control power of earlier full authority digital engine control (FADEC) systems.
The Trent 1000 device is contained in a flat housing with just three cards per channel in place of 16 in its predecessor developed for the Trent 500 which powered the Airbus A340-500. At the heart of the new EECis an Aero Engine Controls proprietary processor, which the company has been “steadily evolving”.
The EEC has to “cope with some unique requirements”, the spokesman added.
* As part of its work on the 787’s high-lift actuation system, Moog set up full-scale wing rigs at its Wolverhampton site, one representing each wing. It also set up a nose gear steering test rig. A spokesman was quoted as saying both are
“typically what Boeing would have done in the past. But it’s good news for us, because it increases our experience and shows we are taking responsibility for those parts.”
* The high-lift actuation system powers, actuates and monitors the flap and slat system that aircraft use to provide extra lift for take off and landing, and includes power drive units, a transmission system and rotary actuation and braking devices.
* The Advantage West Midlandsbacked Aerospace Cluster represents 700 companies employing more than 45,000 people, which is reponsible for about a quarter of
the UK-wide industry in terms of jobs and value.