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Airbus unveils budget rival to Dreamliner

Airbus unveiled a new more efficient version of its A330 passenger jet at the Farnbrough Airshow in July, renewing its longstanding battle for orders with Boeing.

The A330neo is a direct challenge to its American rival’s carbon-fibre 787 Dreamliner, and is said to provide significant improvements in fuel efficiency at a considerably lower cost than Boeing’s offering.

The A330 update has seen an aerodynamic rework, with the wingspan of the plane increased by 3.7m and new carbon composite sharklets inspired by the company’s A350 XWB added to reduce drag and confer increased lift.

Combined with the addition of new bigger fanned Rolls Royce Trent 7000 engines and a redesigned cabin, which will accommodate ten extra passengers in the A330-900neo and six in the A330-800neo, Airbus claims the aircraft will achieve a 14 per fuel burn reduction compared to the older model.

This is not the first time Airbus has looked to update an existing product rather than launch a new one – it announced the A320neo in 2010, rolling out the first aircraft in July.

“We have huge potential in our (aircraft) family so we are looking for faster incremental improvements and this I believe is one of the best examples,” Bregier told journalists at a briefing at the airshow.

Pilots trained on the A330 will be able to fly the new models without extra training and 95 per cent of the airframe spares are shared, making the cost of integrating the new model negligible for existing customers.

The development cost of the project will be between €1bn and €2bn (£800m and £1.6bn) with the first plane due to be delivered by 2017 and the company due to stop production of the original A330 by 2019.

Boeing’s showcase model this year was its stretched Dreamliner, a lengthened version of the composite 787-9 that was certified in June.

Boeing commercial airplanes chief executive Ray Conne defended the value offered by the 787, insisting: “I don’t really care what is said, this is really the most efficient airplane family around.”

But industry sources said the A330neo was likely to undercut the Boeing’s 787 by about 25 per cent based on the price of actual deals rather than list prices.

 

World’s darkest material unveiled

The ‘world’s darkest material’, which could improve optical performance in everything from space telescopes to airborne guidance systems, was unveiled at this year’s Farnborough Airshow.

The carbon nanotube-based material developed by British firm Surrey NanoSystems reflects as little as 0.035 per cent of light from the visible spectrum, compared to 8-10 per cent in good quality black paint and 0.04 per cent in a lab sample created by Nasa that holds the current Guinness World Record for the world’s darkest material.

Limiting stray light could vastly improve the ability of sensitive telescopes to see the faintest stars, or help electrooptical imaging and targetacquisition systems achieve new levels of range and performance.

More importantly, the firm’s proprietary ‘photo-thermal chemical vapour deposition’ technique means that its Vantablack material can be applied to light-weight, temperature-sensitive materials such as aluminium, something previous techniques have been unable to achieve.

“The breakthrough is not only achieving such low reflection, but also being able to grow it so you get adhesion when applied to metals like aluminium, which is the bread and butter of space. It’s being able to grow on that material without melting or deforming it,” said chief technology officer Ben Jensen.

The firm’s researchers hit upon their chemical vapour deposition method during work on semiconductor technology, discovering that by heating from above rather than below they could keep temperatures near to 400°C rather than the 700-800°C of other methods, is too high for use on sensitive electronics.

As well as space instruments, potential applications for the material include spectrometers, terrestrial telescopes, passive and active infrared systems and airborne guidance systems.

The firm has already delivered its first order to an unnamed defence aerospace company, but it expects most of its business to come through licensing its methods to larger manufacturers.

 

EasyJet planes to have volcanic ash detectors

On-board volcanic ash detectors could soon become standard cockpit equipment, with UK budget airline EasyJet looking to become the first to implement the technology.

The Avoid system developed by Nicarnica Aviation is essentially a modified airborne weather radar that relies on two fast-sampling, imaging infrared cameras to detect dangerous ash clouds up to 100km ahead.

At this year’s Farnborough Airshow Nicarnica announced an exclusive partnership that will see it integrate the system into Israeli defence electronics company Elbit Systems’ Enhanced Vision System (EVS) cameras, with the aim to make it available to commercial airlines.

“We are excited and looking forward to our collaboration with Elbit Systems,” said Nicarnica’s CEO Ove Bratsberg. “This will take us closer to realising the goal of an on-board ash detection system and
offering it worldwide within the shortest possible time.”

Nicarnica set out to develop the system in the wake of the 2010 eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which forced the closure of large swathes of European aerospace as volcanic ash particles can damage aircraft engines.

The Avoid system provides realtime information of any potentially dangerous encounter with an ash cloud at distances of up to 100km at altitudes between 1,500m and 15km, which at normal cruising altitudes and speeds gives pilots 7-10 minutes warning and allows them to change their trajectory.

Information can also be relayed back to air-traffic control centres or to other aircraft not equipped with the system. The technology was tested by European plane-maker Airbus last November through a unique experiment that involved creating an artificial ash cloud.

EasyJet’s engineering director Ian Davies said the Avoid production deal between Nicarnia and Elbit Systems was “a tangible and significant step forward in bringing this technology from conception into reality”.

 

F-35 misses Farnborough

The intended star of Farnborough Airshow – the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet – missed its planned international debut after an engine failure saw the fleet grounded.

The jet received clearance to fly again before the end of the show, but restrictions including inspection of the engines every three hours and a maximum speed of 0.9 Mach under an 18° angle of attack prevented travel to Britain.

The Lockheed Martin-made stealth fighters, said to be the world’s most expensive weapons project with a price tag of about $400bn (£230bn), were grounded after a Pratt & Whitney engine on a US Air Force F-35 plane caught fire at a Florida air base on 23 June.

The inspection of the entire F-35 fleet found no similar problems with other engines.