NASA Super Guppy Delivers Composite Structure for Testing

The Super Guppy aircraft based at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, carried the 30 foot wide double-deck multi-bay box from Long Beach in California so researchers can bend, pressurize and eventually break it. The multi-bay box is a test article that represents part of the centre section of a futuristic airplane design, called a hybrid wing body.

Much of the test piece is made from a low-weight, damage tolerant, stitched composite structural called Pultruded Rod Stitched Efficient Unitised Structure or PRSEUS. It was specially made for NASA’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) project by Boeing Research & Technology in Huntington Beach, California, and assembled in Long Beach. The ERA project is part of NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.

NASA worked with Boeing and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to develop the PRSEUS concept, which consists of carbon-epoxy panels that are infused with resin and cured by vacuum pressure without having to use a size-restricting autoclave. That means components can be made in larger pieces. Another advantage to PRSEUS is that stitching the layers together allows aircraft manufacturers to use fewer fasteners, reducing cost, weight and the number of places where cracks can develop.

During manufacturing, after the layers are stitched, carbon-fibre rods are inserted to add stiffening. Researchers predict the stitched structural concept could result in a 25% reduction in weight over state-of-the-art aircraft composite applications.

Smaller stitched resin-infused composite pieces have been tested in labs at NASA Langley and used in smaller aircraft components, such as C–17 Globemaster III fairings and main landing gear doors. Boeing Research & Technology spent more than a year building the multi-bay box that will be the largest structure ever tested in COLTS.

The structural test is one of eight, large-scale integrated technology demonstrations designed to further the ERA project’s goals of simultaneous reduction in fuel consumption, noise levels and the emissions produced by tomorrow’s transport planes.

Image Credit: NASA/Gary Banziger