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August 13, 1997

Dwayne Brown

Headquarters, Washington, D.C. / 202-358-1726

Keith Henry

NASA Langley Research Center / 757-864-6120

Meghan Woodcock

NASA Langley Research Center / 757-864-3296

Dave Eastman

The Boeing Co. / 562-496-5132

RELEASE NO. 97-097

NEW MANUFACTURING METHOD COULD LOWER AIR TRAVEL COSTS

NASA and Boeing are scheduled to demonstrate a new composites manufacturing method August 13 that is expected to revolutionize the way aircraft wing structures are fabricated.

By replacing large metal structures on airplanes with composite materials, the aeronautics industry is estimating large savings on weight and production costs. The improved structural efficiency and production cost savings should directly translate into lower airfares for the public in the near future.

Demonstration of the manufacturing method will take place in Huntington Beach, Calif., at the new Boeing Stitched Composites Development Center. NASA's Advanced Stitching Machine will demonstrate its function in the new stitched/resin film infusion composites manufacturing process.

The stitching machine sews together pre-cut knitted fabric layers at a rate of 3,200 stitches per minute, forming the shape of the wing. After the fabric pieces are stitched together, the machine sews on braided stiffener materials to add to the wing's strength. Once stitching is complete, the still-flexible wing is set with resin using the resin film infusion process.

The aircraft industry should benefit greatly from this new technology. Composite wing structures are expected to cost less and weigh less than aluminum wings while remaining as damage tolerant and carrying the same loads (weight and pressure).

Part of the weight and time savings comes from the elimination of many of the 80,000 metal fasteners found on an aluminum wing.

"The novice eye would only see a normal wing because it's coated in polyurethane paint," said Marvin B. Dow, a retiree from NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., whose materials research led to the naming of the stitching facility after him. "But if you were an expert you'd notice the lack of rivet heads on the outside of the wing."

The new composites stitching technology is a prime example of NASA's implementation of revolutionary technology leaps in the agency's new aeronautics vision. The stitching machine was designed and built under the NASA Advanced Composites Technology (ACT) program.

Boeing dedicated its composites development center to Dow for his 40-year career in materials research and for his invaluable work on the development of the Advanced Stitching Machine. He is the first NASA employee honored in the naming of a corporate facility. Dow retired from NASA Langley in September 1996 and serves the Center as a Distinguished Research Associate.

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