Aircraft Structural Design

Although the major focus of structural design in the early development of aircraft was on strength, now structural designers also deal with fail-safety, fatigue, corrosion, maintenance and inspectability, and producability.

Structural Concepts
Modern aircraft structures are designed using a semi-monocoque concept- a basic loadcarrying shell reinforced by frames and longerons in the bodies, and a skin-stringer construction supported by spars and ribs in the surfaces.

strains. proper stress levels. residual stresses. are calculated using versatile computer matrix methods to solve for detailed internal loads. are used to permit inspection of stringers and avoid moisture accumulation. The goals of detailed design are to reduce or eliminate stress concentrations. or buckling. or single failure causing component failure. deflections. hidden undetectable cracks. a very complex problem in highly redundant structures.Proper stress levels. fretting corrosion. Examples of the latter are: a)Use of tear-stoppers b)Spanwise wing and stabilizer skin splices . Open sections. Modern finite element models of aircraft components include tens-of-thousands of degrees-of-freedom and are used to determine the required skin thicknesses to avoid excessive stress levels. and multiple load path structural arrangements which maintain high strength in the presence of a crack or damage. such as Z or J sections. Fail-safe design is achieved through material selection.

This leads to a safe-life period during which the probability of a . and basic fatigue strength allowables. Fatigue design life implies the average life to be expected under average aircraft utilization and loads environment. Design Life Criteria -. To this design life.Analyses introduce cyclic loads from ground-air-ground cycle and from power spectral density descriptions of continuous turbulence. application of a fatigue life scatter factor accounts for the typical variations from the average utilization. loading environments.Philosophy Fatigue failure life of a structural member is usually defined as the time to initiate a crack which would tend to reduce the ultimate strength of the member. Component fatigue test results are fed into the program and the cumulative fatigue damage is calculated. Stress levels are adjusted to achieve required structural fatigue design life.

0 Probability of Np (Flight Hours) Np (Years) Survival (%) (N = 120.000 hrs.0 97.000 hrs is 94 percent as shown in the following figure and table. = N / Np 2. The overall fatigue life of the aircraft is the time at which the repair of the structure is no longer economically feasible.0 3. inspectable design.5 4.0 . and the probability of attaining a crack-free structural life of 60. Scatter factors of 2 to 4 have been used to account for statistical variation in component fatigue tests and unknowns in loads. the actual structural life is much greater.4 10. s.structural crack occurring is very low.300 30. so that the expected crack-free structural life is 60.54 60.000 flight hrs / year) 94.8 99.000 hrs. For the best current methods of design.5 3. for 120.3 11. Primary structure for present transport aircraft is designed.0 2.000 20 16 13.000 48. Load unknowns involve both methods of calculation and type of service actually experienced.5 98. With fail-safe. based on average expected operational conditions and average fatigue test results.f.3 99. a scatter factor of 2 is typically used.000 hrs) (3.000 34.000 40.

fracture toughness and notch sensitivity. Miscellaneous Numbers Although the yield stress of 7075 or 2024 Aluminum is higher. Typical applications are fittings that can have detrimental preloads induced during assembly or that are subjected to sustained operational loads.05 inches to permit countersinking for flush rivets. This is set by lightning strike requirements. Spar webs are about 0. Ribs may be as thin as 0.000 psi. stabilizers and spar caps in control surfaces. Doublers are used to reduce stress concentrations around splices. 0.06 inches at the tip. such as on outer wings . the usable structural life would be much greater. It is also used for upper wing skins. a typical value for design stress at limit load is 54. 7075-T6 aluminum has the highest strength with acceptable toughness. For low speed aircraft where flush rivets are not a requirement and loads are low.025 inches. access panels. This unique use of the T73 temper virtually eliminates possibility of stress corrosion cracking in critical joint areas.. On the Cessna Citation. is about 0. a small high speed airplane. but 0. due to the possible residual stresses induced during heat treatment. doors.05 inches is preferred. 7075-T73 material has superior stress corrosion resistance and exfoliation corrosion resistance. cut-outs. The density of aluminum is . Generally DC-10 uses 2024-T3 aluminum for tension structure such as lower wing skins.101 lb / in3 Minimum usable material thickness is about 0. (Minimum skin gauge on other portions of the aircraft. such as the fuselage. windows. each manufacturer has different goals regarding aircraft structural life. For those parts in which residual stresses could possibly be present.With fail-safe design concepts.016 inches where little handling is likely. The integral ends of 7075-T6 stringers and spar caps are overaged to T73 locally. Thick-section forgings are 7075-T73. Materials Choice of materials emphasizes not only strength/weight ratio but also: y y y y y Fracture toughness Crack propagation rate Notch sensitivity Stress corrosion resistance Exfoliation corrosion resistance Acoustic fatigue testing is important in affected portions of structure. minimum skin gauge is as low as 0. pressure critical fuselage skins and minimum gage applications. and good fracture toughness. etc.06 inches for high speed transport wings. but in practice. This material has excellent fatigue strength. and to serve as tear-stoppers at frames and longerons. 7075-T73 material is used.04 inches is the minimum gauge on the inner portion of the wing. It is used for strength critical structures such as fuselage floor beams.

skin thicknesses usually are large enough. stresses. it appears that modern methods do not do a better job of predicting failure of the resulting designs. A candidate structure is analyzed subject to the predicted loads and the finite element program predicts deflections. the spar or spars carry almost all of the bending and shear loads. constructed from recent Air Force data. structural optimization has been combined with finite element analysis to determine component gauges that may minimize weight subject to a number of constraints. On light aircraft. In recent years. when designed for bending. These tools have evolved over the past decades to be the basis of most structural design tasks. Skins contribute to compression load only near the spars (which serve as stiffeners in a limited area). In transport wings. Lower skins do contribute to tension capability but the main function of the skin in these cases is to carry torsion loads and define the section shape. Structural Optimization and Design Structures are often analyzed using complex finite element analysis methods. Fuel density is 6. strains.and tail cones. The designed can then resize components to reduce weight or prevent failure. to handle torsion loads.7 lb/gallon. Such tools are becoming very useful and there are many examples of substantial weight reduction using these methods. Surprisingly. Around fuel tanks (inboard wings) 0. Wing skins are generally stiffened. however. as shown by the figure below. .03 inches is minimum. and even buckling of the many elements.

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