A world leading manufacturer and supplier of aircraft braking systems and wheels with production facilities in North America, Europe and Asia, my recent visit to Meggitt Air Braking Systems (MABS) in Coventry was interesting very rewarding.
While it is most often the type of aircraft, the manufacturer, engines that power them, size and number of seats, cost and whatever else might be deemed to set these apart from competing aircraft that tends to grab headline attention, performance of other major aircraft components and the role that these play in helping to improve efficiency of operation and drive down costs are too easily taken for granted.
Wheels and braking systems used on commercial, military and business jets are complex yet vital aerospace related technology components. They too are examples of where performance matters not only in respect of safety but also on aircraft operating cost and performance. Suffice to say that just as improved engine and aircraft materials technology assists in reducing the amount of fuel used and plays into reduction of cost of operation for all commercial, military and business jet operators, so too does the performance, operation and reliability of braking systems.
The production and use by MABS of specialist materials used, for instance, in the manufacturing of carbon brakes, is but one very good example not only of how aerospace materials and component technology continues to evolve but also of why Meggitt remains the leading global player in its specialist fields of operation.
Providing complex range of braking systems to a diverse group of military, commercial and business aircraft manufacturing customers together with full through-life support to the air forces, airlines and business operators that use them is something that Meggitt Air Braking Systems (MABS) has been doing for a very long time.
MABS aim is no different today than it has been for the past forty years – to be the international braking systems supplier of choice.
An absolutely crucial safety item on all aircraft be they military or commercial, MABS wheels and brakes are to be found on no fewer than 160 different international aircraft platform types. To that end, the company estimates that around 34,000 aircraft, be these commercial, military or business jets, use Meggitt Aircraft Braking Systems equipment to take-off and land in the space of a year – this adding up to something like 15 million landings every year.
The range of wheel and braking products manufactured at the various MABS plants around the world include a full range of electric, carbon and steel braking types, nose and main wheels, wheel speed transponders, main and nose wheel axle and interface modules, brake control servo-valves, temperature and pressure sensors, control systems and landing gear computers.
Providing through life support, sometimes on equipment that may have been supplied over thirty or more years ago, together with offering customers full field and technical support, repair and overhaul and training are of necessity hugely important aspects of customer service and relationship.
Headquartered in Dorset, parent company Meggitt plc can be described specialist international engineering group covering a wide range of complex aerospace product technology manufacturing and support. Along with aircraft braking systems and wheels, Meggitt produces control systems, sensing systems and polymers & composites and the company estimates that across all of its aerospace related activities it has an installed base of 68,000 aircraft worldwide.
Founded in 1947 but with a subsidiary history that goes back a long way before that including manufacture of aeronautical instruments, Meggitt has always strived to transform product and industry sectors in which it has been involved.
From my own personal perspective, I had first came across Meggitt when, in 1986, the company acquired Bestobell, a large quoted engineering component manufacturer and one that, if I remember correctly, was then close to three times the size of Meggitt itself. With an exemplary record of making acquisitions work, the acquisition of Bestobell was followed in 1988 by that of Whittaker Controls in the USA and a number of others, including Switzerland based sensor systems and indicating devices company, Vibro-Meter and more recently in 2011, Pacific Scientific, an international engineering group specialising in extreme environment products for the aerospace, defence and energy markets.
Back to aircraft brakes and where Meggitt had acquired Dunlop Braking Systems and Dunlop Aircraft Wheels in 2004, this acquisition bring with it some other former Dunlop Aerospace businesses including US based valve and heat exchanger business.
Amongst the various aircraft braking systems that MABS is today involved, either directly or through international collaborations, include the Airbus A320 and more recently, the A321neo, the A380, various Bombardier aircraft including the Q400 and C-series, Eurofighter Typhoon and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. MABS also supplies braking for unmanned aircraft such as the BAE Systems Taranis and importantly, is the number one global supplier of Helicopter wheels and brakes, supplying systems to various rotary aircraft manufactured by Agusta Westland, Boeing, Sikorsky and Bell Helicopters.
While MABS is headquartered in Akron, Ohio in the USA, large scale manufacturing, maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities along with design, test, development and specialist equipment operations are located at the Holbrook Lane site in Coventry.
With a fantastic history of engineering and a wealth of available skilled talent, Coventry is an ideal location for a very specialist engineering and manufacturing facilities required. In addition to manufacturing facilities in Coventry and Ohio, MABS has facilities in Danville KY, in Singapore and several other international locations.
Aircraft brakes are, as I have already mentioned, highly complicated component structures be these hydraulic or electric actuation brakes using steel or those using carbon friction materials.
As a company and the world leading player, MABS stands out not only in the field of aircraft brakes and wheel manufacturing but also in the field of braking system integration and simulation capabilities that the company has pioneered and refined for the many diverse braking systems programmes it has been involved on over the years.
Across the whole spectre of commercial transport, business jets, military fast jet aircraft and more recently, Unmanned Aerial Systems, the design and testing process ensures that anything that could or might adversely impact braking system performance across all its elements is not only fully understood but also that safeguards are fully built in.
To predict how an aircraft braking system will perform on the runway, MABS uses key data that covers everything from tyre dynamics, fore and aft spring rates, twist of the landing gear under load and of how the aircraft as a whole has been loaded. This is then matched to a complex array of data collected and that enables component parts to be used within a range of simulated take-offs and landing conditions in laboratories long before the aircraft development moves into the build phase.
Meggitt manufactures and supplies all forms of braking systems for aircraft but perhaps the most fascinating and complicated is that of carbon brakes. First fitted on Concorde and also on the BAE 146, later to become the RJ Regional Jet, today Meggitt supplies carbon brakes for the Airbus A320, A321 NEO and the A380 commercial aircraft, BAE Systems Hawk jets and the Taranis UAV, Eurofighter Typhoon plus various Bombardier, Embraer and Gulfstream aircraft. I apologise if I have missed any mainstream aircraft off the above list!
Earlier this year the company announced that it has agreed a long term supply arrangement with Airbus to produce the latest ‘NuCarb’ carbon brakes together with a new design of wheel specifically designed to improve the performance characteristics of the A321 NEO aircraft that these will be fitted to. This next generation technology breaks very interesting new ground for long standing partnership between Meggitt and Airbus.
Visiting the Holbrook Lane, Coventry site last week, I was particularly interested to have the opportunity to see not only the facilities but also the process of carbon brake manufacturing in operation. Both facilities, materials, processes and operation are extremely interesting to observe just as had been the testing, measurement and through life maintenance activities that operate on the site.
I observed long ago that when looking at engineering and technology based operations there is always something new to learn. For the record, the engineering and manufacturing process involved for the manufacture of carbon brakes requires very high temperature furnaces in which the brake discs are produced – with the methane gas essentially being converted to a carbon deposit under a carbon fibre matrix. Fascinating and while the process may have been around for a few years the entry costs are extremely high – a point that emphasises why MABS is not only the leading producer but one of only a very small number of companies worldwide able to manufacture carbon brakes.
(Note: Meggitt Chief Operating Officer, Tony Wood FRAeS, will be presenting the ‘Sopwith Lecture’ at the Royal Aeronautical Society, No 4 Hamilton Place, London W1J 7BQ at 1800 Hours this evening)
CHW (London – 18th October 2017)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785