Airbus AIRTeC opens for business in Bristol

Airbus has formally launched AIRTeC, a £40m research and testing facility designed to undertake structural testing of large-scale aircraft assemblies.

AIRTeC
AIRTeC (Image: Airbus)

Located in Filton, Bristol and funded jointly by the government’s ATI programme and Airbus, AIRTeC (Aerospace Integrated Research and Test Centre) will allow structural testing of full-size wings and individual components and materials used in aircraft design.

The facility includes 65,000m² of specialist test space, a 40x18m strong floor, and a 14x10m strong wall capable of testing full-size wings using a 25MN high-capacity loading test machine (HCTM) that performs high-force static and dynamic mechanical testing of large high-strength materials, components and sub-assemblies.

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Speaking at the launch, Pete Smith, head of laboratories and test centres, Airbus, said the high-capacity test machine can hold a 9m test specimen and full load can be applied in a second.

“It combines a number of test capabilities,” he said. “That means we can really speed through the test process that has been part of the critical path for technology and aircraft development.”

The strong wall is a reconfigurable testing capability that removes the need for the design and build of custom test rigs. According to Airbus, strong wall tests are used to validate the predicted behaviour of structures and simulate the stresses that a wing goes through during its lifespan. The wall is supported by a strong floor, which Airbus describes as a 2m thick concrete floor incorporating over 1,000 high strength anchor bolts that connect multiple high force actuators to simulate the complex load scenarios on the test specimens.

Airbus said the facility is a key asset in ‘helping industry accelerate the design, manufacture, testing, certification, infrastructure, and commercial operation of zero-emission aircraft through sustained investment in R&T and R&D’. An early project at AIRTeC will involve using the wall for Airbus’ Wing of Tomorrow programme, which is exploring the best materials, manufacturing, and assembly techniques to help deliver more fuel-efficient, cleaner aircraft.

As well as its own projects, Airbus anticipates universities and companies in other sectors, such as maritime and nuclear, utilising AIRTeC.

“Whilst we’re an aerospace centre it would be really good to now exploit that facility within the UK for other things,” said Smith. “Maybe urban travel, maybe other forms of energies – so wind turbines and nuclear – so any big structure, any complex structure, anything that requires a bespoke, detailed load application.”

“We’re keen to make this an open-access facility…we want to work with industrial partners, research organisations, Catapults and we want to work together in this facility,” added Steve Raynes, head of R&T business development, Airbus. “That will really enable us to push forward all of the great ambitions that we have.”