Strand Aerospace Malaysia handles critical work for Airbus

Strand Aerospace Malaysia handles critical work for Airbus

The most impressive feature of the world's largest passenger plane, the A380, is its supersized wings. Each wing is just 10m short of an Olympic-size swimming pool.

The weight of each wing (roughly equal to five African elephants) is supported by three massive beams that house the landing gear, flaps, air brakes and thousands of other critical parts.

When the plane flies through turbulence, the beams are subjected to tremendous forces, causing the wing tip to bend upward or downward by up to 1m or more.

This creates small cracks in almost every A380 flying today.

From the beginning, Airbus has enlisted engineering offices in Europe, North America, India and China to design and calculate the complex variations in flying conditions to ensure that their flagship plane remains their safest carrier.

What's not so well known is that Airbus has entrusted a big chunk of the complex, mind-boggling work - for example, analysing the growth of cracks in the A380's wing - to a group of engineers working in Menara Bata in Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya.

"Imagine a table where there are 10 kids jumping on it for 10 years. The forces exerted on the table will vary as the kids vary in weight over time. The table will undergo stress and fatigue," said Naguib Mohd Nor, gesturing toward the A380 model on the table of his well-lit office.

"When the A380 is in the air, the wings are twisting, bending, flexing. You have to imagine every conceivable scenario for stress and fatigue. We were responsible for analysing the strength of the rear spar, or beam. The spar is one of the most critical parts of the aircraft. If the spar fails, the aircraft goes down," Naguib said.

Naguib (pronounced as Najib) is the chief operating officer of Strand Aerospace, an engineering services company based in Malaysia. Since it started in 2006, Strand has grown from a team of five to 160 engineers.

On a typical day, the engineers use complex mathematical software to design aircraft structures, calculate the amount of stress those components can take, and identify flaws that could compromise an aircraft's safety. Over the past seven years, Naguib and his team have done work for Airbus passenger planes, the Sikorsky S61 helicopter and the A400M military airlifter. Strand also provides services for the oil and gas, automotive and satellite industries.

When I visited the company on a sunny day in May, I was struck by how quiet things were. All I could hear was the clicking of computer mice and the squeaking of swivel chairs: that's the sound of a hundred engineers thinking.

While Naguib's demeanour reminded me of an affable neurosurgeon, I still felt shaken by what he had told me earlier in passing.

"Are you telling me that every aircraft I fly in has got … cracks in it?" I asked.

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