Thursday, 14 June 2012

Study Trip: Comprehending the German Aviation Industry

Group portrait in front of Hamburg Centre of Aviation Training.

On the 9th of March 2012, 20 mechanical engineering students climbed aboard a bus headed for Vuosaari harbor in Helsinki. There the bus was driven onto a Finnlines ro-ro ship for a 27 hour sea voyage destined for Travemünde, Germany. Thus began our study trip to Germany.
The group comprised mainly of mechanical engineering students specializing in aviation technology, so the emphasis of the trip was on the German aviation industry. We spent 4 days in Hamburg, whereafter we drove to Berlin for the remaining 2 days of the week. Daily visits were arranged in interesting organisations, companies or places, after which it was possible to do sightseeing and traveling on one's personal choosing.

In Hamburg we visited 4 sights. Our 1st destination on Sunday was the U-434 submarine museum. The U-434 is a decommissioned Soviet diesel-electric submarine that has been turned into museum ship docked in the Hamburg harbor. She was constructed in 1976 during the height of the Cold War and remained in active duty until 2000. It was used mainly in espionage and patrol roles. Allegedly it has sat undetected for months in the New York harbor on one of her many missions. Our guided tour gave as a broad understanding of the harsh living and working conditions the crews were subjected to on their long missions.

On Monday morning we went to Miniatur Wunderland, which is basically the world's largest model railway. After that in the evening we drove to Lufthansa Technik overhaul and maintenance facilities, adjacent to the Hamburg airport. Here we were first familiarized with the Lufthansa Technik organisation and history during a short powerpoint and video presentation. Then led by our awesome tour guide, we moved throughout the hangars and workshops, getting  detailed answers to our questions and seeing cutting edge overhaul and maintenance methods and procedures in action. For example we saw the liquid penetrant inspections facilities and saw actual parts up close being inspected for crack propagation.
Airbus has donated a pair of Airbus A320 cockpit simulators to HAW Hamburg.
The next day was solely reserved for visiting the local university of applied sciences: HAW Hamburg. They are one of our dozens of partner schools, so arranging a comprehensive visit wasn't difficult. Because of the proximity of large aerospace industry giants such as Airbus and Lufthansa, HAW has an impressive department of aerospace engineering. They have 2 wind-tunnels, a pair of A320 cockpit simulators donated to them by Airbus, a comprehensive array of metal and structure testing equipment and dozens of projects for the future designs (e.g. a project for the making of a viable and flyable model of a blended wing aircraft) of aviation backed by the likes of Airbus. Furthermore we visited their automobile engineering laboratory, Formula Student team, Hamburg Centre of Aviation Training, etc. All in all a visit that made me a bit jealous of the study resources and possibilities in HAW.
HCAT has a 'small' cross-section of fuselage from an Airbus A320 at their disposal for training purposes.

On Wednesday we drove a short way to the Airbus Hamburg factory. While we waited for our tour to start, we were able to watch aircraft in different stages of testing, take-off and land on Airbus' own runway. The actual factory tour was done on our own bus, by driving from hangar to hangar. We saw the huge A380's fuselage segment assembly hangar as well as its' final assembly next door too. We visited one of the A320 -aircraft family fuselage assembly lines too, as well as the final assembly line next door, where 1.5 aircraft roll out to meet their new owners every single day. After our Airbus factory tour, we headed for the autobahns for the trip to Berlin, where we arrived late in the evening.

An A320 manufactured for the Indian low-cost carrier IndiGo taxing down the runway at Airbus' Hamburg factory for a test flight.

Thursday morning we visit Anecom Aerotest Gmbh, a company specializing in the engineering,  testing and tuning of gas turbines, including aircraft engines. They have a test bench with which they are able to simulate the real running of a gas turbine, while at the same time monitoring and tuning the engine operation. Anecom Aerotest specializes in the art of optimally placing the right sensors in the right spots of the engine in order to find out as much as possible and as precisely as possible about  the gas turbines' operating events. They even have one of Europe's largest sound chambers, where they are able to test single components or larger assemblies for noise emissions and pinpoint the problems with the help of microphones. Later in the day, we also visited the Luftwaffe museum, where the German air-force has donated some of its' decommissioned aircraft. There was a large collection of aircraft ranging from WWI -era biplanes to WWII -era fighters to early jet fighters to modern attack helicopters and jets. 

As Friday was the last day of our trip, of course the sun came out and the temperatures climbed to an almost 20 degrees centigrade. This was perfect weather for the final event in our trip: a guided bus-tour of Berlin, which anybody who's ever been to Berlin will know, has a lot to see and learn about. After this we started the long trip back to Finland by first driving to Travemünde for the sea voyage back. On the whole the trip was a successful glimpse into the thriving aviation industry of Germany as well as giving us an undeniably important experience regarding German culture and aviation technology.

Text: Mikko Manninen
Photos: Santeri Viinikainen


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