Last Update September 14, 2018


  • Aircraft, Helicopter, UAV, Spacecraft & related equipment
  • Composites, Plastics & Rubber

Airborne specialises in the design, production and maintenance of advanced composite products and systems. Several years of experience have given Airborne the capability to develop and produce innovative composite products, structures and systems for the defence and aerospace industries, oil and gas, and marine market.

Airborne's capabilities include conceptual design, mechanical engineering, structural design & analyses, design of electrics and controls, prototyping, testing and production of composite products and systems. Engineering services like 3D CAD modelling and Finite Element Analyses can be provided by the use of high-end software. 

The maintenance facility of Airborne is located at the Main Support Base of the Royal Netherlands Airforce in Woensdrecht.  Airborne Services specialises in the maintenance and overhaul of composite structures with a focus on helicopter rotor blades. Experience and capabilities are available to work on the NH90, Cougar, Chinook and Apache helicopter. Furthermore civil helicopter blades and other military structures as UAV’s can be repaired the airbase.

The production facility of Airborne is well equipped for processing composites.  The factory at Ypenburg, The Hague has a working area of 4.000 m², including a large clean room of 1.000 m2. Furthermore two autoclaves and two ovens are available to cure the composite structures. The base material is automatically cut on a prepreg cutting machine, controlled directly from the CAD design data. 

The quality of the final product is checked by NDI with an Air Scan and 3D Laser Tracker. Products can be trimmed by use of CNC machinery. The production processes of this facility include pre-preg hand lay-up and ATL, Resin Transfer Moulding (RTM), filament winding (thermoset), tape winding (thermoplastic), pressing, and bonding (metals & plastics).

Airborne Maritime: ISO9001:2008
Airborne Aerospace: AC9100C and ISO9001 :2008

Airborne Composites B.V. - Pictures

Project: ALMA

ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, is an array of short-wavelength radio telescopes whose combined power will enable astronomers to observe the cool Universe – the molecular gas and dust that constitute the building blocks of stars, planetary systems, galaxies, and of life itself. It will operate at wavelengths of 0.3 to 9.6 mm. At these wavelengths, a high, dry site is needed for the telescope to be able to see through the Earth’s atmosphere. This is why ALMA is being built on the 5000 m high plateau of Chajnantor in the Atacama region of Chile. The 12-meter antennas will have reconfigurable baselines ranging from 15 m to 16 km. Resolutions as fine as 0.005 arcseconds will be achieved at the shortest wavelengths – a factor of ten better than the Hubble Space Telescope. The observatory is being assembled by a global partnership between East Asia, Europe and North America in cooperation with the Republic of Chile.

Airborne is selected to manufacture and deliver the composite structures for 25 telescopes to Vertex Antennentechnik from Duisburg, Germany, who supply to the North American part of the project. Our scope entails the large back-up structure of the reflector dish including the center hub, the quadrapod legs and the head part that contains the secondary mirror. The structures are optimised for stiffness and close-to-zero coefficient of thermal expansion to maintain the high accuracy during operation.

The main challenge in this project, besides the high accuracy and quality requirements, was the industrialisation of production. Such a large project represents a big investment in infrastructure and is complex with so many partners involved; any delay of these essential components would have a big impact on the project. Each of the 25 antennas consist of 24 segments, which results in 600 large composite structures of 6 meter length and close to 300 kg of weight each. This requires an industrial production approach, and that's what we did: a series production line has been set up, that has work stations with dedicated production teams for each manufacturing step, a work planning optimised for production flow and strict inspection protocols throughout the whole production chain to avoid any delays. All segments are fully interchangeable so that we can set a segment aside for extra inspection or repair if needed, without disturbing the rest of the flow. We have produced at a speed of 1 antenna per 5 weeks, which equals to 1 segment per day. We can easily go faster, but current production speed has been reduced to avoid being ahead of schedule.

One of the reasons Vertex has selected us, was the fact that we already produced the South Pole Telescope for them. This project was only one telescope but with a very tight timeslot: the telescope had to be installed in the winter of 2006/2007, summer time in Antartica, because the scientific base cannot be reached outside this time frame. We succeeded in this challenge and proved that we are a reliable capable partner that values open communication about any potential issue, to overcome these together with our client.  Currently we are expanding our cooperation with Vertex on future telescope projects such as CCAT and SKA.

Project: Deepsea Riser JIP

Most of the newest oil discoveries are found offshore in ever deeper waters, up to 3000 meter of water depth or even more. Current technologies in Top Tensioned Risers, Steel Catenary Risers and Flexibles are approaching their technical limit and will be very expensive or impossible to use for these water depths. 

Airborne proposes a Thermoplastic Composite Riser (TCR) as alternative to current solutions. The TCR will achieve a break-through performance improvement in terms of weight, top tension, fatigue, stiffness, strain and cost of installation.  Airborne Composite Tubulars has taken the initiative to form a consortium with MCS Advanced Subsea Engineering, a leading engineering firm for deepsea oil & gas projects, and OTM Consulting, specialist in management of large projects, and jointly propose a Joint Industry Programme in response to a call for proposal issued by the ITF in Aberdeen, UK. This proposal was selected as one of the few from all the proposals, and is currently sponsored by BG Group, BP, Chevron, SBM Offshore, Shell, Statoil and Total. The project has started on July 15 2009 and will run for 18 months.

An important aspect is that the behaviour of such a riser system under operational conditions will be different than current solutions. In some cases the weight of our riser system can even be to low and some weight needs to be added. A full-system analysis has been carried out by MCS, which takes all these effects into account, and it showed that 60% reduction of top tension can be achieved using the TCR.

The project aims to prove the concept of a Thermoplastic Composite Riser by analysis and hardware testing. It covers the analysis of several scenarios idetermined by the sponsors, for each of which a specific TCR design and a global system analysis will be made. Large scale pipe test specimens will be made and tested to validate the designs and analysis model. The next step after this project will be be to define a specific application, design the TCR, manufacture it and implement it in operational field testing.

Project: Sentinel

The Sentinel satellites are part of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme of the European Union and ESA.  As part of this programme, ESA develops five large satellites called Sentinel, which means "gatekeeper". Each Sentinel focuses on one specific aspect of Earth observation. Sentinel-1 is a radar satellite and will continuously provide critical data such as for mapping of inhabited areas and the impact on the environment, monitoring the Arctic and forests, monitoring of movements of the earth's surface and humanitarian aid in crisis situations. The Sentinel-2 satellite will continuously provide high-resolution images delivered in different band widths. Every ten days the satellite scans any point on Earth. The data can be used for example to observe natural disasters such as floods, volcanic eruptions and landslides.

We provide the solar array substrates for both Sentinel 1 and 2. Our strategic partner Dutch Space is system integrator for the solar arrays, and the prime contractors are Thales Alenia Space in Italy for Sentinel-1 and Astrium in Germany for Sentinel-2.

After our effort to become a qualified supplier for solar panels, and smaller commercial projects in which we supplied substrates for CFESat, Delphi-C3 and UK-DMC-2, this is the first major ESA project. We are selected for three other projects that will start soon. Information on these projects is still confidential, but more news will follow soon.

Project: Thermoplastic Composite Pipe for BP

In this project, we are developing, manufacturing and testing a Thermoplastic Composite Pipe together with our client BP America. We will design and test short samples in our facility, and manufacture and supply a number of long length strings to BP.

The goal of the project is to prove the use of this Thermoplastic Composite Pipe in an onshore application.

The manufacturing of the strings will take place in Airborne's facility in Ypenburg, The Netherlands.

Project: Galileo

Galileo will be Europe’s own global navigation satellite system, providing a highly accurate, guaranteed global positioning service under civilian control. By offering dual frequencies as standard, however, Galileo will deliver real-time positioning accuracy down to the metre range, which is unprecedented for a publicly available system. The fully deployed Galileo system consists of 30 satellites (27 operational + 3 active spares), positioned in three circular Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) planes at 23222 km altitude above the Earth.

Our part in this project are the solar array panels for the satellites. We work close together with Dutch Space, who are as system integrator responsible for the design and integration of arrays. We supply ultra lightweigh and stiff substrate panels, on which the solar cells are mounted. Over the past period, we have been preparing ourselves for this important project. A full qualification programme was succesfully carried out, and one flight model consisting of four solar panels has been made to demonstrate our capability for series production.

Project: Deepwater Thermoplastic Pipe Chevron

For our client Chevron USA, we are developing a thermoplastic composite pipe for a deepwater application. The project includes development, manufacturing and testing, with the goal to prove and qualify the product in a deepwater environment. The manufacturing will take place in Airborne's facility in Ypenburg, The Netherlands.

The advantage of Thermoplastic Composite Pipe (TCP) in this application is the capability to withstand both high internal pressure and external pressure induced by the water depth, combined with high tensile strength and spoolability.

In March 2010, the testing program of the first phase was completed successfully and included pressure, tension and fatigue testing. A field trial phase is currently in preparation.

Colby Frerich, Subsea Systems Specialist with Chevron USA: “Airborne’s robust composite pipe technology has great potential to work in several deepwater applications. We are excited to be involved in this development.”

Project: Semiconductor manufacturing

Manufacturing of semiconductor components requires extremely high precision and high speed manufacturing machines. The size of computer chips is reduced more and more, and at the same time, the production efficiency should increase to be able to maintain Moore's law: doubling the performance every 18 months, for the same cost.

A main element in the production efficiency is the speed of the machine: the higher the speed, the more products per hour can be manufactured. The required accuracy however limits the speed, because at higher speeds vibrations start to occur. Composites can break this barrier, thanks to the low weight and high stiffness. The combination of these properties increases the natural frequency of a structure, and hence increases the critical speed barrier.

In this project we worked together with one of the machine suppliers in the semiconductor market. Together we developed new composite structures for high speed moving components, and successfully implemented these parts into the machine. Achieving the geometrical high precision while using high-stiffness carbon fibres was one of the main challenges. A dedicated quality control process was implemented to ensure 100% delivery.

Project: TAPAS

TAPAS is a research collaboration project between Airbus and the Dutch industry. It aims to develop Thermoplastic Affordable Primary Aircraft Structures, for future aircraft structures . The Dutch companies and technology institutes  are Fokker, Ten Cate Advanced Composites, Airborne, KVE Composite Group, Dutch Thermoplastic Components, Technobis, TU Delft, UTwente and NLR. The total budget for this research program is more than 13 million Euro, 50% of which is funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Thermoplastic composites have been used in the aviation industry for a while already, however very limited in primary load carrying aircraft structures. Thermoplastic composites are characterised by short cycle times, low production costs, better corrosion resistance, good possibilities for recycling and a higher toughness resulting in products of a lower weight.  The application of these new generation aircraft materials in primary load carrying aircraft structures therefore makes aircraft lighter, stronger, safer, cheaper and more cost efficient. Airbus has indicated that it sees the production and the use of thermoplastic composites as an important development for new aircraft programmes. 

We, togehter with the other Dutch parties, can help Airbus with developing this new technology based on our expertise and technology leadership. This collaboration project proves that the Netherlands are internationally recognised for being at the forefront of thermoplastic composite technology.

For us at the Airborne Technology Center, the focus will be on automated production processes to manufacture thermoplastic composite parts, based on our proprietary in-situ consolidation process. Fibre steering will be used to achieve optimal structural performance. The products can be either directly used as is, or as tailored blanks for subsequent process such as press-forming, co-consilidation and welding. We have designed and build the first thermoplastic fibre placement system, and have supplied blanks to DTC for press forming and to Fokker for co-consoildation of their butt-joint stiffener concept.

Project: Gulfstream G650 overhang panels

For the Gulfstream G650 aircraft, we have developed and are currently supplying the composite overhang panels for both the horizontal and vertical tailplane.  These parts are made of carbon-fibre epoxy with honeycomb sandwich, and need to be very accurate and stiff to ensure adequate aerodynamic flow for the aircraft.

We worked together with our client Fokker Aerostructures, who supply the whole empennage to Gulfstream. Based on the specifications and design of the overall system made by Fokker, we took responsibility for the design and stress engineering of the overhang panels, and developed the required production process definitions, manufacturing tooling and quality control procedures for these parts. In february 2009 we were audited by Gulfstream and were granted the approved supplier status.

Production of the first shipsets is currently on-going in our manufacturing facility in Ypenburg - The Hague in the Netherlands. It is foreseen that the series manufacturing of these panels will be transferred to the sister organisation in Catalunya, Spain.

Project: Clean Sky

Airborne is one of the partners the European Clean Sky technology development programme. The goal in this 7 year - 800 million Euro program is to develop technologies for "greening the aircraft": 40% reduction in CO2 emission and 50% noise reduction.

Airborne is involved in two projects: Smart Fixed Wing Aircraft (SFWA) and Green Rotorcraft (GRC). In the SFWA, we are working on integration of fluidic synthetic jet actuators in the composite structure for active flow control, and on new technologies for high-lift devices. In GRC, our part is to develop improved injection production technology to produce smart rotor blades and to develop an industrialised method to integrate optical fibre sensors in the blade.

Project: Aeronautical qualification programme

Qualification of new materials and processes is a crucial element to achieve the high safety level in the aerospace industry. Airborne Composites in Spain has become a specialist in the manufacturing and testing of test specimens and structural parts. The quality standard of working should be equal to the quality of the aerospace factories, and our facility has been extensively audited. We are currently Tier 1 to Airbus in Toulouse and Tier 2 to Airbus in Madrid, helping them not only with the qualification but also with developing and improving the newly developed production processes.

This programme is a set of projects, in which we produce a broad range of test specimens:

  • Repair samples (wet lay-up and repair prepregs, resin and adhesive bonded repairs)
  • Tensile stepped / tapered joints test samples
  • Single and double lap shear samples
  • Fracture toughness (bonded joints) samples
  • Flat wise tensile and sandwich flexure specimen
  • Honeycomb core closing samples
  • Skin restoration samples (structural repairs)
  • Application of resin blocks around structural panels and stringer samples
  • Stiffened panels with the following skin – stringer assembly techniques:

         Soft on hard
         Hard on soft

All test specimens are evaluated by ultrasonic inspection (A, B, or C-scan), before the are send to the client.

Project: TC-SKAR

The Square Kilometer Array is a vision of a new telescope of gigantic proportions: thousands of large-diameter telescopes with a total reflective area in the order of a square kilometre will work together to create the largest telescope human mankind has ever seen. The location for this telescope is yet to be selected from the two main candidates South Africa or Australia. In any case the array will span a whole continent; for example in the case Australia is selected, it will spread from the most western part of Australia up to New Zealand.

The critical factor in the go-ahead decision for this project is whether the high precision telescopes can be made at an affordable cost.  It is clear that the current available technologies are not sufficient enough, and that a radical step-change is required.

Airborne has developed a concept for fully automated manufacturing of a thermoplastic composite reflector. A continuous fibre placement process is used to manufacture consolidated blanks from UD thermoplastic tape, these blanks are press-formed into shape, automatically assembled by pick & place robots and welded together with welding robots. This concept can use low-cost composite materials, has short cycle times and requires a minimum of production people.  This results in a very efficient production process.

Airborne has taken the lead to form a Dutch consortium of industry and research institutes that combines the strengths of all partners. Airborne has the unique continuous fibre placement process, DTC is an internationally recognised specialist in thermoplastic press forming, KVE has developed a special induction welding process, TU Delft is renowned for its material expertise on thermoplastic composites and ASTRON is a world-class radio astronomy institute. In this project the partners work together to develop the technology, proof the production concept, investigate whether thermoplastics can be used as material for telescope reflector and demonstrate the concept by manufacturing composite panels that will be integrated in the Westerbork radio telescope and used for astronomical observations. This project is funded within the Dutch polymer research programme 'Polymeren Innovatie Programma'.

Project: AMBV propeller

Sea mines are used more and more, and need to be removed to ensure safe water ways. That's when mine hunting vessels like the Alkmaar-klasse Mijnenbestrijdingsvaartuig (AMBV) of the Royal Dutch Navy come in. They search for the mines and send diver teams or equipment to destroy the mine in a controlled procedure. Of course, this should be done with great caution to avoid the mine to detonate prematurely. The vessel is therefore constructed of non-magnetic composites to reduce the signature of the ship.

The propellers however are still made of bronze. When the ship was designed the state-of-the-art didn't allow composite propellers to be used. Still today it is challenging to develop composite propellers: the laminate is very thick, up to 8 cm, and the blade is highly loaded especially at the root, these loads need to be handled within the limited space defined by the hydro-mechanical shape, and the shape of the blade needs to be very accurate after manufacturing.

In this project we have solved all these issues, and invented a new solution to attach the blade to the bronze foot. We also developed an adequate resin injection production process to make sure we get an accurate outer shape and full impregnation of the laminate. The laminate is a hybrid design of glass- and carbon fibre, and every ply is separately designed to fit within the shape of the propeller. None of the more than 180 plies that make up the product  have the same contour.

During development the structure has been thoroughly tested to validate the strength and stiffness as defined during the design. Five blades for the first propeller have been manufactured, and will be mounted on an AMBV vessel and tested during operation. A test campaign will be carried out to measure the signature of the ship and evaluate the difference made with our composite propellers.

This project focused on minimising the signature of the blades, but composite blades also improve the efficiency of the propeller, reducing the fuel consumption of the ship. In a follow-up project we are working on optimising the design of the blade further, to both reduce signature and improve efficiency.

Project: Coreholders

Scientists of the Shell research laboratory in Rijswijk, the Netherlands, are investigating the behaviour of rock in oil & gas wells, to understand the porosity of the earth layers so that the production of these wells can be optimised. Samples of rock, that are retrieved from drilling the well, are placed in high-pressure cylindrical container, the so-called coreholder. Inside the coreholder, the conditions of the well are simulated by placing the rock sample under high pressure and high temperature. At one side of the coreholder, fluid is pressurised against the core sample, and the fluid starts to permeate through the rock. The coreholder is placed inside a CT scanner, so that the movement of the flow front can be measured with the use of X-rays.

Composites are used in this application, because the material is more transparant for the X-rays than metals, but still can withstand the high pressures that are applied. We have helped Shell in this project by designing and manufacturing the coreholders, and by using new materials that can withstand high temperatures. The pressures can be as high as 650 bar operational pressure, and the temperatures the coreholders need to withstand can be up to 250 degrees Celcius. Special high-temperature resisn are required to achieve this performance. We pressure test the coreholders before delivery in our high-pressure test bunker.

Airborne Composites B.V.

  • Laan van Ypenburg 70 78, 2497 GB, The Hague, The Netherlands
  • +31 070 3017400
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