SONACA is the Belgian leader of the aerospace and defence sector. SONACA's main business consists of design, development, manufacturing, assembly and testing of aerospace structures, and their associated systems. With subsidiaries in Brazil, Canada and USA, SONACA has accumulated in 2010 a turnover of more than 200 MEUR with a headcount of about 1500 persons.
The main business lines of SONACA are: leading edge structures, fuselage panels and assemblies, wing panels and assemblies for civil transportation aircrafts.
Being a risk sharing partner of AIRBUS, EMBRAER, DASSAULT Aviation, Bombardier and other aircraft manufacturers, SONACA occupies the rank 88 of the TOP 100 World class aerospace manufacturers. SONACA is managing turnkey aerospace and defence programs from design to final certification, and for that purpose can count on design, development and industrialisation offices accounting several hundreds of engineers, technologists and researchers, used to work in the framework of international programs. SONACA qualifications include EN9100, ISO9001, JAR FAR 145. The company is also an approved AIRBUS Repair Station.
Significant expertise in design and production has been accumulated in many specific areas such as anti-icing systems, damage-tolerance, fatigue and impact justification. In parallel with serial production of existing AIRBUS, EMBRAER and DASSAULT product lines, SONACA’ s engineering is contributing to the development of several new projects: the A380 high capacity aircraft, the A400M and the A350. Its engineers participate in numerous research programs under CEC FP6/FP7 frameworks, such as IARCAS, ALCAS, SILENCER, AWIATOR, ALCAS and HISAC, CLEANSKY, SARISTU.
On the metallic side, major production assets from the company include high speed machining, very large stretching, and chemical milling. Structural bonding and advanced composites are equally well represented. Clean rooms of some 2000 sqm, 5 autoclaves up to 4 m diameter and 12 m length, allow polymerization up to 450°C and 20 bars are available. Non destructive tests can be performed with a number of methods: advanced Ultrasonic C-scan, robotized X-rays, thermographic and interferometric techniques are available. Advanced manufacturing technologies such as Super-Plastic Forming/Diffusion Bonding for titanium, and CFRP advanced resin transfer molding are applied under serial production.
SONACA is also actively involved in Space applications, and participated in several ESA Programs (ARD, X-38, FESTIP, GSTP), and also to the SPOT5 earth observation satellite, with the development and manufacturing of the equipment platform for ASTRIUM. Latest developments include the complete bus for the PLEIADES satellite, the COROT telescope platform and the AEOLUS/ALADIN Optical Bench.
Current main Defense Programs for SONACA are the B-HUNTER Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) System, certified to fly above populated areas in Belgium, successfully operated by the Belgian Defense, including overseas deployments, and the A400M, the next generation military transport aircraft developed in association with FLABEL and AIRBUS MILITARY. SONACA is providing the leading edges and the main landing gear doors for this aircraft.
SONACA has been involved in composites material structures for 50 years, serial-producing about 70 GFRP detail parts for the F104G Starfighters from 1962 onwards. SONACA’s first “modern” clean room was inaugurated in 1971, the production at that time consisting mainly of helicopter doors and various cowlings for light transport aircraft. Development of a full scope CFRP advanced composite capability was initiated in 1980 thru a technology transfer from Lockheed, culminating with the development and qualification of a CFRP Krueger Flap, which was then tested with entire success during several years on airline operations.
Every AIRBUS aircraft since the A310 involve SONACA designed and produced composite parts; for the A350, an innovative hybrid metallic/CFRP design is being qualified and will be serial produced for the outer (slats 6 & slat 7) moveable leading edges. These will be mainly RTM-based, but SONACA is also developing other new processes such as AFP (Automatic Fiber Placement), having invested in state of the art facilities in-house. The first space-flown SONACA CFRP structure is the SPOT5 Platform, delivered back in 1999 to Astrium. Of an empty weight of 350 KG and of a size of 3mX2.5MX1.2M, it is built mostly of CFRP sandwich panels assembled by CFRP rods and comprising titanium inserts. SONACA also developed and produced composite parts for the COLUMBUS European module of the ISS, a.o. the Fluid Cell Experiment CFRP structure, subjected to very stringent dimensional/thermal stability requirements. Since 2004, the company even has a CFRP structure on planet Mars: the CFRP heatshield structure of the Mars Express/ Beagle 2.