Here are some of the first parts for the first Airbus A350. But these parts weren’t photographed in France, Germany, Spain or the UK, or anywhere in Europe for that matter – but in a small specialist metal manufacturing company in Los Angeles. The company, McStarlite, produces the engine nacelle leading edges – or lipskins – for all the current Airbus production models and is just beginning to manufacture the first units for the initial A350-900 under a $10 million contract.
Airbus plans to begin A350 final assembly in early to mid-2011 ahead of static- and fatigue testing, which should also start in about two years. First flight is scheduled for early 2012, followed by entry into service in mid-2013. The first shipset of McStarlite lipskins is due to be shipped to Airbus’s Nantes facility in France by the end of next month.
A sheet of ductile aluminum (AL-2219) awaits conversion into A350 lipskins, while recently completed but much smaller inlet leading edges are stacked in the background. (Guy Norris)
Splices for the first A350 inlet segments of which there are four per engine (Guy Norris)
A350 lipskins will be delivered in batches of segments like these (Joe Theveny/McStarlite)
Newly-pressed lipskins for engines powering the A320 family. (Guy Norris)
Immediately after pressing workers begin refining the forming work with hammers (Guy Norris)
In all there are more than 70 suppliers to Airbus just in the greater LA area and just a few miles from McStarlite is Coast Composites which is busy finalizing the production jigs for the A350's largely composite fuselage and wing. Airbus says spending across the U.S aerospace has doubled in the last five years and reached $10 billion in 2008. For California, which has more than 100 direct suppliers to Airbus, the spending on current projects has meant the direct injection of $973 million into the state economy last year versus $496 million in 2007. Airbus says this represents only direct suppliers and does not include sub-contractors or suppliers of buyer furnished equipment. Overall the company says it has spent around $7 billion in California since 1990. No wonder then the McStarlite employees produced a banner for a contract signing ceremony yesterday that pronounced the aircraft as the ‘USA350’.