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UC San Diego Engineers Test World's First Composite Landing Gear Braces for Boeing 787

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Aerospace company Messier-Dowty tapped into the expertise of UC San Diego structural engineering professor Hyonny Kim to test the strength and durability of the first-ever composite landing gear brace for the commercial aircraft industry.  

San Diego, CA, June 9, 2009 -- For the first time, UC San Diego engineers have performed tests on landing gear components for the aerospace industry.  Led by Hyonny Kim, an associate professor in structural engineering at the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering, the researchers performed six months of rigorous Federal Aviation Administration tests on the first-ever composite landing gear braces, which will be used for the new Boeing 787 aircraft.

The purpose of the full-scale tests, performed for  Messier-Dowty, the world leader in landing gear design and manufacturing , was to prove the strength and capability of these major structural components. These components, made by Messier-Dowty using advanced composite materials (carbon fibers and epoxy), were subjected to loads approaching 1 million pounds using UC San Diego’s unique Caltrans Seismic Response Modification Device (SRMD) test facility. The SRMD’s testing table is 16 feet-long by 12 feet-wide, and can move horizontally and vertically, and rotate (i.e. six degrees of freedom), and shake at velocities of up to 70 inches per second.

“This was a very important test,” Kim said. “The quality standards of the testing, and keeping track of the data and documentation (for FAA certification) is extremely high. For us, we had to improve our methods and processes to get to be able to perform at the FAA certification level and we did. We have proven that we can do this level of testing. We have the facility and equipment and capability to do it. What we hope with this project is to demonstrate to the aerospace industry that UC San Diego is capable of and can perform aerospace certification testing for future projects.”

Michael Bangue-Tandet, composite project manager for Messier-Dowty, said the French aerospace company chose UC San Diego’s SRMD because of the facility’s unique capability, real-time testing ability and quality control. This is the first time Messier-Dowty has worked with UC San Diego on such a project.

“UC San Diego has a high level of expertise and a very top notch team working on this project,” Bangue-Tandet said. “The team at UC San Diego has shown a strong commitment to this project; Professor Kim is extremely knowledgeable in this area.

“The tests we performed at UCSD were critical to show the safety and durability of these composite parts,” Bangue-Tandet added. “The next step for us is to submit the paper work to the FAA to have flight clearance of these landing gear braces in the coming months so we can deliver them to Boeing. These tests were challenging, but we have been very pleased with the responsiveness of the UCSD team. We will certainly consider UCSD again for further testing.”

Composite materials are common for construction of other parts of an airplane, but this is the first time such materials have been used for landing gear braces for large commercial aircraft. Until now, the commercial aircraft industry has used steel or titanium to build these components. One of the benefits of using composite materials is that it allows the aircraft to be lighter and therefore reduces fuel consumption. (The new Boeing 787 is expected to have 20 percent more fuel efficiency).

“What the aerospace is interested in is materials made of carbon fibers that are held together with epoxy resin,” explained Kim, whose co-PI on the Messier-Dowty project was Gianmario Benzoni, a research scientist for the Structural Engineering Department at the Jacobs School of Engineering and SRMD Project Manager. “Composite material is very light. It’s also very strong, stiff, and corrosion free. The lighter you can make the aircraft the more benefits you have.  If the whole aircraft is lighter maybe you can use lighter engines.

Kim said as the use of composite materials increases, aerospace companies will look more toward academic and research institutions for expertise in the design, durability and performance of such materials.

“Using composite materials adds a lot of complexity to the development of product,” Kim said.  “These materials are not simple in the way they fail. It’s hard to predict how they will fail. Tapping into expertise of the universities can help with understanding how to predict the failure of these materials.”

Bangue-Tandet said turning to universities such as UC San Diego for expertise in testing and using composite materials will give companies like Messier-Dowty a competitive advantage.

“There will be a trend in the aerospace industry to use more innovative composite materials,” he said. “We will benefit from the knowledge university researchers have in this area.”

Kim said the recent partnership with Messier-Dowty will help open the door for future aerospace projects for UC San Diego and its Seismic Response Modification Device Testing Facility, as well as for the university’s Powell Structural Research Labs.

“One of the reasons I came to UCSD is because of the labs here,” said Kim, who came to UCSD from Purdue University in 2006. “The labs here are very attractive to researchers because they allow us to perform large-scale tests.”

 

 

 

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