Carbon fiber composite tubes for world’s largest airship

Finland’s Exel Composites is collaborating with French airship manufacturer and operator Flying Whales to develop thin wall carbon fiber tubes for a state-of-the-art airship.

The airship will be able to deliver up to 60 tons of cargo to remote and difficult-to-reach locations globally. This will also cut emissions compared to land and air transportation Exel Composites will provide R&D support during the airship's rigid structure prototyping phase, developing and manufacturing the estimated 80km of carbon fiber tubing needed to make this concept a reality.

Flying Whales is the designer of the LCA60T, a 200 m-long vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) airship that uses helium lifting technology to lift its weight and cargo capacity. The airship will function like an airborne crane, carrying the cargo and transporting it to the customer, reducing the reliance on air and land transport, and unlocking bottlenecks at shipping ports.

The airship could be used to transport trees when transporting lumber, wind turbine blades to utility stations, and, most surprisingly, an entire portable hospital, aiming to bring universal healthcare to some of the world's most remote areas.

“With this airship being one of the largest ever developed, the frame needs to be able to distribute the structure’s entire load," explained Guillaume Klein, business development manager at Exel Composites. "We are working closely with Flying Whales to develop a unique tube that meets the technical requirements and specifications needed to make this project viable. Most aerospace standards don’t cover airships yet, instead focusing on planes and helicopters."

“We needed both a supplier of pull-wound carbon fiber tubes and an R&D partner with an understanding of aerospace standards and applications to help bring our vision to life. Exel provided us with both,” explained Vincent Guibout, CEO of Flying Whales.

"Each airship requires 80 km of pull-wound carbon fiber tubes,” continued Klein. “Pull-winding is ideal for these applications as it allows extra reinforcements to be added to the tubes compared to other techniques. Furthermore, being a continuous manufacturing process, it allows us to produce the large volumes of tubes needed for this project while maintaining quality, stability, and uniformity.”