Rolls-Royce Test-Bed Blowout Shuts Site Used for Boeing, Airbus
Rolls-Royce Group Plc has yet to reopen a site used to trial jet engines for Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner model and the rival Airbus SAS A350 after a $17 million turbine blew up on the test bed three weeks ago.
The failure of the Trent 1000 engine, which powers the Dreamliner, resulted in “limited debris being released into the test facility,” Rolls-Royce spokesman Josh Rosenstock said in a telephone interview late yesterday. Minor repairs to the site in Derby, England, will be completed shortly, he said.
The incident occurred as Boeing races to maintain first delivery of the flagship Dreamliner around the end of 2010 after the composite-skin aircraft was delayed for several years. Both airframe makers said they’re in touch with suppliers and don’t expect the engine failure to affect their testing plans.
The European Aviation Safety Agency, which must sign off on new aircraft and components developed in the region, said it sent an official to England following the test-bed incident. The malfunction occurred on Aug. 2 and was a so-called uncontained failure, according to Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Alison Duquette. That means pieces of debris would have been flung out at high speed, piercing the housing.
“We can confirm that we have been notified by Rolls-Royce and we are working with the company to make sure the engine is certified to the highest possible standard,” EASA spokesman Jeremie Teahan said yesterday from Cologne, Germany, adding that an official would speak with Rolls was part of a routine visit.
Rolls-Royce, the world’s second-biggest maker of aircraft engines, could switch testing of the Trent 1000 and the Trent XWB designed for the A350 wide-body to other locations around the world, according to a person familiar with the programs, who declined to be identified because the information isn’t public.
The U.K. company has engine test sites in Derby, Germany and the U.S. and is planning to open one in Singapore.
Uncontained failures are “extremely rare” while engines are in use on a commercial airliner, said Paul Hayes, safety director at U.K. aviation consultants Ascend Worldwide, with “one or two per year, if that.”
While Ascend doesn’t track failures on test beds, they’re likely to be more common than on the wing as engines are in an environment where they’re meant to be stressed, Hayes said. The nacelle casings which house the turbines are also often removed and these would help contain debris under normal circumstances.
A Trent 1000 engine like the one that failed in Derby has a maximum thrust of 75,000 pounds (334,000 newtons), a fan diameter in excess of nine feet (2.7 meters) and weighs more than five tons, Rolls’s web site says. The model, which competes with General Electric Co.’s GEnx, will be used on Dreamliners supplied to initial customer All Nippon Airways Co. and also to Air New Zealand Ltd., the first recipient of the larger 787-9.
The XWB model is the only engine available for the A350 twinjet. Delivering up to 92,000 pounds of thrust, it’s Rolls- Royce’s fastest-selling Trent model, with more than 1,000 on order. Rolls opened a new test site called Bed 58 in Derby in 2007 to develop and trial both the Trent 1000 and XWB.
Test beds for evaluating modern airliner engines are large halls featuring walls a few feet thick, a ventilation system to ensure good airflow and a “detuner” that reduces the noise emitted while venting exhaust gases, said Riti Singh, professor of gas-turbine engineering at Cranfield University, England.
The Trent XWB engine built by Rolls-Royce for the A350 ran for the first time in Derby in June, and the London-based company is due to have six development models available by early next year, according to its website.
The debut of the twin-engine 787, which has more than 800 orders, has been pushed back more than two years because of parts shortages, redesigns, the challenge of new materials and heavier reliance on suppliers than previously.
Boeing, which had 83 cancellations for the delayed Dreamliner last year, said on Aug. 11 that service entry with initial customer All Nippon Airways may slide into 2011 because of flaws with structures that keep the plane steady.
“Boeing is actively participating in the investigation into this event with Rolls-Royce,” said Lori Gunter, a spokeswoman in Seattle for the Chicago-based planemaker. “There has been no impact on the flight test program to date.”
Airbus’s A350, its response to the Boeing model, is slated for delivery starting in July 2013. The European company is working to maintain the schedule after the A380 superjumbo was marred by years of delays and slower-than-planned production.
“Airbus is in constant communication with our suppliers and there is no indication that this has any impact on the testing program for the Trent XWB engine,” Martin Fendt, a spokesman for the Toulouse, France-based planemaker, a unit of European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co. said in an e-mail.
Rolls-Royce closed down 0.7 percent at 557.5 pence in London and EADS ended the day 0.8 percent lower at 18.38 euros in Paris. Boeing had declined 2.6 percent to $61.67 as of 11:42 a.m. in New York.