New Plane "A Real Pleasure To Fly"
Hailed as a "new era" of aircraft manufacturing technology, the
Advanced Composite Cargo Aircraft (ACCA) flew for the first time
June 2nd at Palmdale, California. The aircraft is the product of
the Air Force Research Laboratory, and Lockheed Martins'
The ACCA is a modified Dornier 328J aircraft with the fuselage
aft of the crew station and the vertical tail removed and replaced
with completely new structural designs made of advanced composite
materials fabricated using out-of-autoclave curing.
The ACCA fuselage is wider and stronger to accommodate military
standard 463L pallets and features a cargo door and cargo ramp. The
vertical tail features integrally stiffened skin. Despite its
larger size, the materials and processes used for the fuselage
reduced the number of parts by an order of magnitude compared to
the original metallic design, down to about 300 instead of 3,000,
and drastically reduced the number of mechanical fasteners from
30.000 to about 4,000, program officials said.
Barth Shenk an ACCA program manager from AFRL's Air Vehicles
Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, said the flight is
could represent a wholesale change in the way airplanes are built.
"This has the potential to change aircraft manufacturing as we
presently know it, for the better. Today's successful flight is the
culmination of years of teamwork between government and industry
labs involving hundreds of dedicated researchers across the country
to fundamentally change the way we make airframes."
Mr. Shenk said the ACCA isn't designed to be a prototype for a
small airlifter or any other aircraft. It demonstrates proof of
concept technology for composite manufacturing processes in a
full-scale, certified aircraft. In an effort to demonstrate and
test the technologies while keeping costs down and on schedule, the
small team of Air Force and Lockheed Martin engineers elected to
modify the high-wing Dornier jet, mating its existing engines,
wing, landing gear and avionics systems to the new composite
Lacking traditional fasteners like rivets, the composite
structure is inherently aerodynamic. Mr. Shenk said he believes
composite structures will address many of the corrosion and aging
issues associated with all-metal aircraft, reducing airframe
lifetime maintenance. Lighter weight of composite materials can
also contribute to increased cargo capacity, aircraft performance
and lower operating costs. The real game changer, however, is the
maturation of manufacturing processes which collectively
dramatically reduce the cost and complexity of building large
After the 87 minute first flight, Rob Rowe, the Lockheed Martin
lead ACCA test pilot, said "Today is one of those perfect days
where I get to be the first to fly a new aircraft and everything
goes exactly as planned. The aircraft was a real pleasure to fly
and we experienced absolutely no issues."