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

27 August 2015

The ASTC team unloading the test plane (without its wings attached!).

An aircraft designed to carry out spectacular aerobatic stunts is going through a battery of tests to prove its airworthiness at the AMRC's Advanced Structural Testing Centre (ASTC).

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.

Full airworthiness certification has, in the past, been carried out in the Czech Republic.

However, when industry contacts told head of advanced structural testing, Phil Spiers, about plans to design and build the stunt aircraft within 60 miles of the AMRC, he resolved to convince its designer - whose details are currently under wraps -to keep the whole production process, including testing, inside Britain.

"It's such a unique job for us," says Phil.

"We haven'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."

Engineers at the ASTC have designed a bespoke test rig that will 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 have made some of the parts of the rig, while other components have been made elsewhere within the AMRC with Boeing.

The whiffletrees are being painted so they are distinguishable from the planes structure. 

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."

The whiffletree is a special device that distributes test forces over the aircraft's fuselage and wings, causing them to twist and flex just as they are designed to in flight..

Mounting the plane on the whiffletree is a big challenge in itself.

To do that, the fuselage, with wings fitted, has to be lifted four metres into the air and then flipped upside down.

"It will be the first ever barrel roll inside the ASTC!" says Phil Spiers.

ASTC engineers have had to position mounting points on its 10 metre square 'Strong Floor' to an accuracy of within 1 millimetre.

They have had to manufacture complicated loading brackets to similar accuracy so that they can be mounted onto a spar that runs through the fuselage and holds the wings and to attach strain gauges precisely at 17 locations on the surface of the plane, to monitor the performance of the aircraft's structure throughout testing.

"It's 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.

"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," adds Phil Spiers.

Phil and his colleagues believe that the successful completion of airworthiness tests at the ASTC will open the way for the testing of light aircraft to return to the UK, leading to furthercntracts.

Follow the ASTC's progress as it tests the aerobatic stunt aircraft at thewhiffletree.wordpress.com.

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