Centre breaks new ground by carrying out the UK's first full airworthiness test for 30 years

05 February 2016

The Game Bird 1 in flight.

Airworthiness testing of new light aircraft is returning to the UK thanks to a pioneering partnership involving a championship-winning aerobatic pilot and aircraft builder, and the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing (AMRC).

Lincolnshire-based Game Composites was founded with the aim of creating an easy handling two seater aircraft that would be recognised as the most fun to fly aircraft in the world.

Their GB1 prototype weighs only 575 kg can cruise at more than 200 knots and has a range of 1,000 Nautical Miles on 320 litres of fuel or can carry 95 litres for aerobatics.

Although the GB1 has been designed and built in the UK, Game's initial plan for fatigue testing involved shipping the aircraft to the Czech Republic for full airworthiness certification, until Phil Spiers, head of the AMRC's Advanced Structural Testing Centre (ASTC) became aware of the project.

"When I heard about the plans to design and build an aerobatics aircraft within 60 miles of the AMRC, I was determined that we should keep the whole production process, including testing, inside Britain," says Phil.

The Game Bird 1 undergoing airworthiness tests at the AMRC's Advanced Structural Testing Centre 

The ASTC believes this will be the first time in more than 30 years that a plane has been designed, built and tested in the UK.

"We hadn't done it before but we have the skills and experience in abundance to help this manufacturer get its planes into the sky as quickly as possible," adds Phil.

Engineers at the ASTC designed a bespoke test rig to apply forces up to 10 times those exerted by gravity, simulating the forces the aircraft will have to cope with as it carries out high speed manoeuvres.

They made some of the parts of the rig, while other components were made elsewhere within the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing.

The ASTC called on the skills of welding specialists from the Nuclear AMRC and the abilities of the AMRC's own apprentices to construct a complete "whiffletree," which distributes test forces over the aircraft's fuselage and wings, causing them to twist and flex as they are designed to do in flight.

Mounting the plane on the whiffletree was a big challenge in itself. The fuselage, with wings fitted, had to be lifted four metres into the air and then flipped upside down.

"It was the first ever barrel roll inside the ASTC!" says Phil.

Engineers had to position mounting points on the ASTC's 10 metre square 'Strong Floor' to within 1 millimetre, manufacture complicated loading brackets to similar accuracy and attach strain gauges precisely at 17 locations on the plane's surface.

"It was important for us to get things as close to the customer's drawings as possible as they have calculated the loads and made their designs according to how they will be distributed within the aircraft's structure," says Phil.

"If we were a few millimetres out, it would make a big difference to where the loads go, which is why we have had to create quite a complicated load fixture."

The challenges didn't end there. The ASTC has also had to devise a way of heating the whole of the aircraft to 70

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