Anatomy of a Composite-Heavy Jetliner

Airbus’s fanfare a few weeks ago when the first completed A350 XWB widebody jetliner came out of the paint shop was mostly a PR event. At the time, the two things the company announced were that the plane had received its final paint job, and ground tests were about to begin, with flight tests expected some time this summer. This gave us an excuse to check up on the progress of this record-breaking aircraft’s production.

The A350 XWB’s airframe consists of a bigger proportion of carbon-fiber reinforced composite structures than any other commercial jet to date: over 53 percent by weight. Carbon fiber composite leader Hexcel is supplying all of the carbon-fiber

composites, both prepreg and fibers, used in the plane’s primary structures. According to a video made by the company, these include fuselage panels and barrel, wing upper and lower covers, wing spars, center wing box, keel beam, main landing gear door and bay, and the vertical and horizontal tail plane.

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