Carbon ThreeSixty, Leonardo, and the National Composites Centre have joined forces to create an all-composite helicopter wheel. The NATEP project, which began on January 1, 2021, aims to use the group’s combined skill sets to create and manufacture these wheels using carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) over the next 18 months.
As of now, aluminum or magnesium are typically used for helicopter wheels. However, the project aims to change the narrative by adding composites to the mix. The CFRP wheel has many benefits, such as enhanced mechanical properties with less density than its metallic counterparts. The wheels are also being designed to be interchangeable with existing wheels – allowing for retrofitting if desired. In addition, they will also offer a weight savings of approximately 40% over aluminum. Adrian Smith, R&T Portfolio Delivery at Leonardo Helicopters UK notes that “composites are expected to save around 1.5 kilograms over each 5-kilogram alloy wheel. This 6-kilogram weight-saving overall represents almost 1,000 gallons of fuel saved over a typical 12,000-hour service life and equates to around 12 tons of CO2”.
The collaboration will feature the latest manufacturing technology such as tailored fiber placement (TFP), braiding, and out-of-autoclave (OOA) processes, allowing for better repeatability and scalability.
In total, the project is anticipated to cost approximately $340,000. Deliverables will include 12 thoroughly tested proof-of-concept wheels and a methodology for design and manufacture.