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The History of Aircraft Materials

Instructor Notes
These instructor notes contain commentary for each of the accompanying
slideshow presentation. These notes are followed with related student activities, a
test that may be administered before and/or after the module and references. ach
presentation slide is numbered in the lower left!hand corner to facilitate matching
the se"uence with these notes. This material is intended to be delivered in two #$
minute classes if the pre/post test, presentation and activities are all used.
A suggested schedule%
&lass '%
(re!test '$ minutes
(resentation )$ minutes
&lass *%
+eview '$ minutes
Activities *$ minutes
(ost!test *$ minutes
,lide ' Title ,lide ! The History of Aircraft Materials
This presentation is a brief history of the development, use and adaptation of
materials to the construction of aircraft.
,lide * -uestions to answer in this module.
/hat is the brief history of the materials used to construct aircraft0
/hy were these materials adopted0
/hy did some materials replace others0
/hat is the future for materials in aircraft0
,lide 1 '2)1 ! +ubber
Mayans used rubber tree sap to ma3e balls for games
&harles 4oodyear added sulfur and heat to rubber to create a tough, durable form
that could be molded into shapes.
+ubber has become critical for the production of tires, seals and gas3ets
&urrently, many applications that used natural rubber have been replaced by
synthetic rubbers with high temperature, hardness or degradation resistance.
+ubber is an elastomer, meaning it can be made to stretch great lengths and return
to its original shape.
Images ,hown% A tapped rubber tree, and typical pneumatic tire.
,lide ) '5$1 ! 6irst 6light
The /right 7rothers made their first controlled self!propelled flight on 8ecember
, '5$1 at :ill 8evil Hills near :itty Haw3 North &arolina.
Many gliders been built previous.
The design featured%
An engine with a lightweight aluminum engine bloc3
,pruce and steel wire structure
6abric s3in
Image ,hown% The /right 6lyer at the National ,mithsonian Museum of 6light.
,lide # '5$1 ! /right 7rothers
/hy wood and wire structure0
/ood is a natural composite material that has high strength to weight
ratio. It is easy to wor3 with and shape with limited tools. It is tough
;resistant to damage< and fle=ible
,teel wire provided additional stiffening that could be ad>usted and it was
thin in cross!section! so it would not add too much drag.
/hy fabric s3in0
The fabric was stretched over the spruce frame and coated with sealant.
This initial s3in structure performed much li3e the sails of ships.
,lide ? '5$1 ! Aluminum ngine
The /right 7rother@s engine was a large part of their success in flight.
In '5$1 aluminum was still a new material.
Aluminum was first produced in metal form in '2*#,
but was not available commercially until electricity became plentiful because
large amounts of energy are re"uired to refine it.
In '5$1 most engines were constructed with cast iron which is roughly 1 times the
weight of aluminum per unit volume.
Many engines of the time were steam engines and did not have high horsepower
for their weight.
The /right 7rothers surveyed engine manufacturers of the timeA none could ma3e
an affordable, lightweight engine with enough power.
They decided to design and build their own using aluminum.
Image ,hown% Bne of the early /right 7rothers engines.
,lide 9 '5$9 C (lastic
(lastics had been discovered prior to '5$9, but Deo Hendri3 7ae3eland refined
plastic production to create a product called ba3elite. This new plastic could be
molded into any shape and proved to be stronger and more durable than previous
types. Thus a new material type was available for control 3nobs, and electrically
insulating parts.
Image ,hown% A ba3elite engine distributor rotor.
,lide 2 '5'# C All Metal Airplane
In '5'# Hugo Eun3ers built the first all metal airplane using a tubular structure
covered with corrugated sheet iron. This was a step away from the limitations of
using only natural wood materials with fi=ed properties.
Image ,hown% An early Eun3ers airplane with iron sheet s3in.
,lide 5 '5'? ! ,tressed!,3in &onstruction
The D64 +oland &.II used formed plywood s3in. 6abricated plywood uses the
natural composite of wood and tailors the properties by alternating the grain
direction and thic3ness.
This aircraft was different than all previous because the plywood s3in became part
of the structure. No longer was the s3in acting only as a sail to deflect the air, it
was holding the craft together.
Image ,hown% The D64 +oland &.II stressed s3in biplane.
,lide '$ ,tressed!,3in &onstruction
/hy stressed!s3in0
The stressed s3in concept combines the support structure and the aircrafts s3in.
If the aircraft is built using a s3eleton structure it would still re"uire a s3in for
aerodynamics, but if the s3in is made stiff enough to resist tension and
compression, a s3eleton structure is not re"uired. If the correct design and
materials are chosen, a weight savings can be achieved.
Image ,hown% ,pace frame construction fuselage that does not use stressed!s3in.
,lide '' '5*? C ,emi!Monoco"ue &onstruction
In '5*# Henry 6ord purchased the ,tout Metal Airplane &ompany. The aircraft
designed and built were based on the previous wor3 of Eun3ers.
6ord Tri!motor employed stressed!s3in construction also 3nown as semi!
monoco"ue construction.
In semi!monoco"ue construction the s3eletal structure is not replaced by a
structural s3in, it is minimiFed. The s3in does its aerodynamic tas3, carries
structural loads, and is reinforced with ribs and spars.
In full monoco"ue construction, the s3eletal ribs, spars and stiffeners would be
eliminated! only a structural s3in would be used.
Note that the 6ord Tri!motor used a corrugated s3in to increase its stiffness. It
was later determined that this surface roughness created much drag.
Image ,hown% 6ord Tri!motor aircraft.
,lide '* ,emi!Monoco"ue &onstruction
,emi!monoco"ue construction cutaway
Image ,hown% Modern 7oeing 9)9 shown but the concept has changed little
from first inception.
,heet metal s3in, riveted lamination sheet metal ribs and formed stringers all
riveted together.
,lide '1 '51$@s C Increased Aluminum Gse
,tarting with the initial flight of the /right 7rothers, aluminum saw
increased use as it was produced cheaper and with better properties.
In the early '51$@s wood and wire construction was still competitive with early
aluminum construction.
7y the late '51$@s aluminum construction techni"ues and semi!monoco"ue
construction supplanted wood structures.
8uralumin, an alloy of aluminum with copper added had been developed in '5$1
by 4erman metallurgist Alfred /ilm. The addition of copper allowed the
material to become stronger with age, but created corrosion problems especially
in salt water environments.
The Gnited ,tates Navy funded the development of Alclad! which consisted of
duralumin with pure aluminum coating to protect the alloy from corrosion.
Image ,hown% &orroded aircraft components.
,lide ') '51' C ,tainless ,teel &onstruction
In '51' the 7udd &ompany built the 77!' (ioneer out of stainless steel sheet and
strip using newly developed spot welding technologies. The design was Italian in
origin and used sheet metal frame, sheet metal s3inned fuselage and floats, and
fabric covers wings and control surfaces.
The 7udd &ompany was the leader in building railcar which used large amounts
of stainless steel. The company viewed stainless steel aircraft as a way to e=pand
business and solve the corrosion issues associated with duralumin.
This aircraft was a flying boat configuration and performed as e=pected, logging
roughly '$$$ flight hours.
Image ,hown% The 7udd 77!' (ioneer on display outside the 6ran3lin Institute
in (hiladelphia.
,lide '# ,teel/ ,tainless ,teel vs. Aluminum
,o why not build all aircraft out of stainless steel0
,tainless steel alloys generally have better corrosion resistance than aluminum
Aluminum is roughly '/1 the weight of stainless steel
,tainless has been more costly
Thin stainless sheet is been susceptible to buc3ling failure than thic3er aluminum
sheet of the same weight
6or a simple beam structure under a bending load, the top surface of the beam in
loaded in compression, while the bottom surface is loaded in tension.
If the structure is changed to a tube, li3e a fuselage, the top s3in is loaded in
compression and the bottom is in compression. If the s3in is too thin, the top
surface in compression will buc3le li3e an empty stepped on soda can.
Image ,hown% A simple beam under loading, and a large sheet metal test sample
demonstrating buc3ling failure.
,lide '? '51? ! (lastics Gse =pands
(le=iglas is a trade name patented in '511 by 4erman chemist Btto +Hhm.
,heets were made commercially available by '51? and "uic3ly adapted for
optical applications including aircraft windscreens and canopies.
The material is light, transparent, good impact resistance and is easily molded or
formed. It also weathers the environment well and will not yellow from GI
This material assisted in allowing designers of aircraft to continue to create
enclosed, comfortable and eventually pressuriFed coc3pits and cabins.
Image ,hown% A modern (le=iglas aircraft canopy.
,lide '9 '5)* C &omposites ! 6iberglass
6iberglass was first produced by accident at &orning 4lass by blowing air into
molten glass by researcher 8ale :leist. 7y the late '51$@s fiberglass was being
spun to create cloth. In '5)' it was discovered that heat treating the fibers gave
increased fle=ibility which is 3ey to use in composites.
arly in /orld /ar II, 7ritish agents stole the secrets to ma3ing polyester resin
which was given to American manufacturing firms to use as matri= material to
hold the fiberglass together. 7y '5)* Bwens!&orning was producing aircraft
coc3pit components from the fiberglass polyester composite materials.
Aircraft noses are often constructed from fiberglass to house the radar systems
and allow radio fre"uency transmission.
Image ,hown% 6iberglass cloth weave and a modern aircraft nose.
,lide '2 '5)$@s C '5#$@s ! ,uperalloys
7efore /orld /ar II iron based alloys were developed for high temperature
wor3. The war increased demand of performance materials for turbochargers and
A superalloy is defined as a metal that has high strength and creep resistance at
high temperatures, in addition to corrosion resistance.
,uperalloys are now cobalt, nic3el or nic3el!iron based and some are JgrownK as
single crystals. A typical application is >et engine turbine blades.
,uperalloys are 3nown with such names as% Hastelloy, Inconel, /aspaloy, +ene
alloys and others.
Image ,hown% +ed hot superalloy forgings.
,lide '5 '5#$!'5?1 ! Titanium
In '5#$ the Titanium Metals &orporation of America was formed as a >oint
venture of National Dead &ompany and Allegheny Dudlum ,teel &orporation.
The National Dead &o. had been studying titanium for several years prior as a
replacement for stainless steel in some applications.
It was noted that the metal resisted corrosion, resisted acids and had high strength.
Titanium was identified as a strategic material for aircraft, )$L lighter than
stainless steel and a focal point for &old /ar production.
stimated weight savings per aircraft using titanium were )$$ to ),$$$ pounds
per engine depending on the siFe of the aircraft.
The Mach 1.* capable A!'* and its replacement, the ,+!9' were both largely
built from titanium to withstand the high temperatures generated at speed.
Image ,hown% The A!'*, the precursor to the ,+!9'.
,lide *$ '5?5 C &arbon 6iber &omposites
&arbon fiber can be made to a tensile strength roughly # times that of steel.
It is typically used with epo=y resins or other plastic to form a matri= that 3eeps
the fibers together.
+olls!+oyce developed the +7*''!$? engine for the Doc3heed D!'$'' airliner.
+olls!+oyce decided to use JHyfilK, a newly developed carbon fiber from +oyal
Aircraft stablishment at 6arnborough for the fan stage.
This 7ritish patented process allowed +olls!+oyce to save a considerable amount
of weight giving the +7*'' engine a higher power to weight ratio than
competitors engines.
Gnfortunately the development costs for the new engine and materials in a
fiercely competitive mar3et forced +olls!+oyce into ban3ruptcy and re"uired a
government bailout.
Images ,hown% The +7*'' turbofan >et engine, and woven carbon fiber.
,lide *' '59$ C 7oron 6iber &omposites
7oron fibers were discovered to have higher strength than carbon fibers.
Gnfortunately boron composites had three significant problems which limited it
The boron had to be deposited on a tungsten wire substrate.
The processing was e=pensive.
7oron filaments cannot be bent into tight radii.
The 6!') >et fighter was the first aircraft produced with boron composites
included in the initial design
Image ,hown% The 6!') JTomcatK >et fighter.
,lide ** '52' ! &eramics
The ,pace ,huttle uses thermal insulation made from 55.5L pure silica glass
fibers and 5)L by volume air.
This light ceramic, with a density of 5 pounds per cubic foot allows the shuttle to
survive re!entry into the arth@s atmosphere at Mach *#.
The material is called DI!5$$ and is manufactured by Doc3heed into tiles which
are glued onto the ,huttle.
A DI!5$$ tile minimiFes thermal conductivity while providing ma=imum thermal
shoc3 resistance to the point that it can be heated to **$$M6 and immediately
plunged into cold water without damage.
Image ,hown% The ,pace ,huttle in simulated re!entry to arth@s atmosphere.
,lide *1 '552 C Aluminum! Dithium
Aluminum!lithium is an advanced alloy with trace amounts of copper, Finc,
manganese, magnesium, Firconium and iron which first saw limited aerospace use
in the '5#$@s.
Dithium is the worlds lightest metal, and its addition to aluminum, decreases
weight, improves strength, toughness, corrosion resistance, and formability.
The ,pace ,huttle e=ternal fuel tan3 was changed to aluminum lithium alloy in
'552 bringing its weight from ??,$$$ lbs. to #2,2$$ to increase payload capacity.
The new Airbus A1#$ uses a considerable amount of aluminum!lithium for the
wings and fuselage, this amount is reported to be as high as *$L.
Another important characteristic of Al!Di alloys is their superior 6atigue &rac3
4rowth ;6&4< performance. This allows the use of less material and weight for
e"ual safety margins when compared to other advanced materials such as
composites. Al!Di is a good choice for structures that must be damage tolerant.
Image ,hown% The ,pace ,huttle launching, the large center tan3 is the e=ternal
fuel tan3.
,lide *) *$$# ! 4DA+
J4DAss!+inforcedK 6iber Metal Daminate ;6MD<
4DA+ is a composite laminate construction of alternating layers of thin
aluminum and layers of fiber glass and plastic matri= material. The fiber
orientation of the fiberglass can be tailored to produce desired strength and
Although 4DA+ is a composite material, it can be processed for component
fabrication much li3e aluminum sheet. It e=hibits less similarity to traditional
composites that are more comple= for design, manufacture, inspection and
Advantages over conventional aluminum construction are%
,uperior damage tolerance to impact and fatigue
7etter corrosion resistance
7etter fire resistance
Dower specific weight
Image ,hown% The Airbus A12$ airliner uses 4DA+ composites.
,lide *# *$$5 C 7oeing 929 8reamliner
Darge scale composite use%
The 7oeing 929 weight brea3down by material type%
#$L composite ;fuselage, wings, tail, doors and interior<
*$L aluminum ;wing and tail leading edges<
'#L titanium ;engines components<
'$L steel ;various locations<
#L other
The plane will be 2$L composite by volume.
This ends up being 1# tons per aircraft of carbon fiber and plastic composite of
which *1 tons is carbon fiber.
This widespread use of composites will ma3e the 929 nearly *$L more efficient
than the earlier 9?9 of similar siFe and role.
Image ,hown% A 7oeing 929 carbon fiber fuselage section.
,lide *? 6uture! Intelligent materials
Imbedded sensors%
&omputer material health monitoring and real conditions maintenance!
The system determines when maintenance and repair are needed.
Materials change properties and configurations
Image ,hown% NA,A 7iomechanical Aerial Technology ,ystem ;7AT,<
,lide *9 6uture! Nanotechnology
Gltra!strength composites by accurately building molecular structures
Docally tailored materials for specific re"uirements
The properties of the material can vary by location such as%
Heat or electrical conduction
Image ,hown% &arbon nanotubes
,lide *2 ,ummary!
/hat is the brief history of the materials used to construct aircraft0
Natural composites ;wood, fabric<
,ynthetic composites ;fiberglass, carbon fiber<
/hy were these materials adopted0
6or a number of reasons%
Higher strength to weight ratios
7etter corrosion resistance
7etter fatigue resistance
Dower overall cost ;for performance, processing, manufacturing.<
7etter thermal properties ;for high temperatures at higher speeds<
/hat is the future for materials in aircraft0
Increased composites use and development
Intelligent materials and nanotechnology
,tudent Activities%
4roup Activity%
7rea3 into groups of three, and each group choose a specific material used
to manufacture aircraft. &reate a five minute presentation addressing the
following points%
How is this material processed from raw materials0
How much of this material is used each year for aircraft0
/hat is the future trend for this material in aircraft manufacturing
/hat 3ind of aircraft components is this material used for0
/hat are the material properties0
/hat 3ind of e"uipment is needed to produce parts from this material0
Individual Activities%
'. /rite a one page paper that e=plains in detail why one material
used for aircraft was replaced by another material.
/hat were the costs0
/here the choices strategic0
/as there a downside to this change0
/hat was the driving factor0
*. +esearch and list some of the re"uired fluids for aircraft
manufacturing and operation.
(re/(ost Test%
'. /hat 3ind of composite materials were used for the first aircraft0
a. &arbon fiber
b. Aluminum
c. Natural composites
d. Titanium
*. /hy was aluminum important to the /right@s flyer succeeding0
a. It allowed the fabrication of the wings
b. It was lighter than a cast iron engine
c. Aluminum tubing was used
d. It wasn@t important
1. /hat material was deemed a strategic resource for aircraft during the
&old /ar0
a. &opper
b. Aluminum
c. ,teel
d. Titanium
). In a monoco"ue structure the stresses are carried by the.
a. ,3in
b. ,tringers
c. +ibs
d. All of the above
#. &arbon fiber has a strength that is roughly NNNNNNN that of the same siFe piece
of steel.
a. Twice
b. Half
c. ,ame
d. 6ive times
?. 7oron fiber composites are very high strength, but what is one reason they
have not seen widespread use0
9. /hat is the material most used for transparent canopies0
a. De=an
b. Aluminum
c. &arbon fiber
d. (le=iglas
2. The ,pace ,huttle e=ternal fuel tan3 structure was originally made from
aluminum, what material was it redesigned for to increase the ,huttle@s
payload capacity0
5. Name two emerging technologies that will see increased use for future
'$. /hat component of composites was accidentally discovered in the '51$@s and
saw e=panded use in a minor role during /orld /ar II0
''. Dist three reasons for the development of newer materials for aircraft.
'*. /hat was the problem encountered with the use of early aluminum alloys0
'1. /hy didn@t the use of stainless steel for aircraft structures gain widespread use
as shown by the 7udd &ompany0
'). /hat material is tapped from trees in its raw form to ma3e fluid seals0
'#. The 7oeing 929 airliner uses a ma>ority of NNNNNNNNN to create a new level of
fuel efficiency.
a. Aluminum
b. &arbon fiber
c. 4DA+
d. 7oron composite
Aluminum construction
Aluminum C Dithium
7oron composites
&arbon fiber! +olls +oyce +7*''
Intelligent materials
,emi!monoco"ue and monoco"ue construction
,tainless steel construction
/right 7rothers