Sailing Through The Air With Stainless Steel Foils
Looking up at the huge turbine I am dwarfed by the scale and enormity of the fan blades. The classic spiral pattern on the dome shaped spinner is mesmerising. It is hard to imagine that soon this aircraft will be cruising through the air at a mere 43,000ft almost smashing through the sound barrier at mach 0.85. Weighing in at 560,000kg this behemoth of an aircraft sits pride of place as one of the greatest planes ever to fly, with first class passengers and business class passengers alike experiencing the comfiest and most pleasurable flights ever. It was 2016 and I was at the biannual Farnborough international airshow.
This was my third visit to the show but the first time I had been up close and personal with the almighty A380, sitting pride of place in the centre of the show for guests to explore at their leisure. With the aircraft towering over me, it gave me the sense of wonder as to how on Earth does an aircraft this size and volume cut through the air, and transport passengers on transcontinental journeys! And the answer is largely due to minimising the weight of each individual part, from the large aluminium and titanium landing gears, to individual fasteners that keep the plane together.
One component that helps give the plane its thrust is a honeycomb seal that is found all the way around the inside of the turbine, where the fan blades reach the edges of the turbine. This creates a vacuum effect which forms the seal. This part would not be possible without the use of stainless steel foils. The foil is produced by a cold rolling process to thickness’s of around 0.05mm and 0.075mm, which are then corrugated and laser welded together to create a mass of honeycomb. This is then laser cut to the correct dimensions. The grade used is typically a stainless steel or a high temperature nickel alloy and is critical to the function of the turbine.
Stainless foil is used in other areas too, such as minute springs and clips that are used in various different parts of the aircraft, but the low thickness of each component contributes to the overall weight saving of the plane, which is vital to its success
Stepping back from the aircraft and I am again amazed at the human engineering that has gone into the aircraft, and proud to be involved in the supply chain of one of the greatest planes to ever have flown in our skies.