GKN-Westland, November 22, 1999 - Yeovil, UK - The world's most advanced transmissions test facility was opened today at the GKN Westland site in Yeovil. The new £9 million Flexible Transmissions Test Rig (FTTR) was officially opened by Alan Johnson MP, Minister for Competitiveness, with responsibility for the aerospace sector. The new facility will be operated by GKN Westland Aerospace Transmissions, a global leader in the design and manufacture of helicopter and aeroengine transmissions systems.
Unveiling a plaque to mark the occasion, Alan Johnson said: "This new facility, designed to test the full range of helicopter gearboxes, as well as a range of aeroengine transmissions, will enable GKN Westland Aerospace Transmissions to provide cost effective test capabilities for a wide range of aircraft types." He told an audience of VIPs, including representatives from the Armed Services, Ministry of Defence and DTI: "It will place the company in a strong position to capture further important new business."
The new facility is based on a ground breaking concept which enables a wide range of gearboxes and transmissions to be tested on a single rig. Traditionally, test rigs are capable of testing just one type of gearbox.
A project team from GKN Westland Aerospace Transmissions pioneered the concept of a pallet-based system capable of development and production testing of the main rotor transmissions for a range of single, twin and three engine helicopters, including the Apache Attack Helicopter, EH101 and Sea King. Each gearbox has its own dedicated pallet, each pallet typically costing around a tenth of the cost of a traditional test rig. This means that the rig will test 10 different gearboxes for the cost of just one traditional rig.
Mike Askew, Director and General Manager of GKN Westland Aerospace Transmissions, said: "A number of our existing test rigs, such as the Sea King rig, have been operating for 30 years or more. "This, coupled with the need to build additional rigs for new programmes such as the Apache, EH101 and Agusta Bell AB139 presented Transmissions with the challenge and opportunity to develop a unique approach to the situation."
The new rig provides accurate simulation of aircraft operating conditions, coupled with a high level of flexibility and fast reconfiguration and load times. The rig's automated test cycles, low running costs and high reliability are among the additional important benefits of the facility.
The FTTR is based on a closed-loop electrically regenerative design. This greatly enhances energy efficiency, with around 85% of the power used being recycled. The rig's main generator, which simulates output load, develops more than 7,500hp equivalent to 5 and a quarter megawatts of power. The rig's four AC drive motors, which can either simulate input loads or additional output demands, each have a capacity of 2,600hp or 2 megawatts. It means the FTTR is cycling power at levels to meet the needs of a town half the size of Yeovil.
Construction work on the 2000 sq metre building which houses the rig was under way in 1997 with installation of the rig itself starting in early 1999. The sheer scale of the rig presented many challenges for the project team, those responsible for the construction of the building and the main suppliers involved, ABB and Renk of Germany. The 120-ton rig itself is mounted on a seismic slab weighing over 700 tons, all supported on 25 giant springs (similar to those used to support skyscrapers in earthquake zones) to isolate vibration. Commissioning of the new rig started in August this year and was completed by October.
The main gearbox pallet for the new Apache Attack Helicopter has already been successfully commissioned on the new rig, with commissioning of Sea King, EH101 and Agusta Bell AB139 pallets due to start in the near future.
Mike Askew added: "We are confident that the FTTR will provide us with cost effective test facilities for a range of aircraft types, as well as enabling us to attract new repair and overhaul business for which test facilities would otherwise prove uneconomic. This is another important element in our strategy for growth and drive for competitiveness, building on the impressive success we have achieved in new markets over the past 5 years.