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Basics of Aerospace Materials: Aluminum and Composites

Two materials play major roles in modern aerospace: aluminum alloys for airframes and skin,
and composites for structures. Heres a look at both.
There are some aviation observers who predict composites and titanium will rule the roost
when it comes to aerospace airframes and structures. But that seems rather unlikely. Aluminum
is still lightweight, technically advanced in terms of forming and alloying, and it relatively low
cost, especially when compared to titanium and composites.
Alcoa, for example, predicts 6% more aluminum will be used in planes in 2013 compared to
2011. The company, a major producer of aluminum, also points out that the current fleet of
airliners and military jets are heavy users of aluminum, and newer designs continue to specify
lots of aluminum. The Airbus A380, one of the largest passenger airliner in the world, contains
10 times the amount of aluminum used in the Airbus A320. And Boeings 787 Dreamliner,
which is often described as a composite aircraft, contains 20% aluminum (by weight) which
includes aluminum 7085, a relatively new aluminum alloy.
Other segments of the aircraft industry are also continuing to use aluminum instead of
composites. A regional jet being developed at Mitsubishi, for example, was initially going to be
equipped with composite wings. Eventually, the company admitted it would go with aluminum
wings and they would be a better overall solution. And Mitsubishi supplies composites to
commercial aircraft manufacturers.
Even on high-performance military jets, aluminum continues to have a significant role. For
example, aluminum is used extensively in the J-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It makes up six forged
bulkheads that form the aircrafts major weight-bearing portion of the airframe.
Aluminum characteristics: Though lightweight, commercially pure aluminum has a tensile
strength of about 13,000 psi. Cold working the metal approximately doubles its strength.
Aluminum is usually alloyed with elements such as manganese, silicon, copper, magnesium, or
zinc to further increase strength. The alloys can be made stronger by cold working. Some alloys
are further strengthened and hardened by heat treatments. At subzero temperatures, aluminum
is stronger than at room temperature and is no less ductile. Most aluminum alloys lose strength
at elevated temperatures, although some retain significant strength to 500F.

Besides a high strength-to-weight ratio and good formability, aluminum also has its own
anticorrosion mechanism. When exposed to air, aluminum forms a hard, microscopic oxide
coating which seals the metal from the environment. The tight chemical oxide bond is the
reason aluminum is not found in nature; it exists only as a compound.
Aluminum and its alloys, numbering in the hundreds, are available in all common commercial
forms. Aluminum-alloy sheet can be formed, drawn, stamped, or spun. Many wrought or cast
aluminum alloys can be welded, brazed, or soldered, and aluminum surfaces readily accept a
wide variety of finishes, both mechanical and chemical. Because of their high electrical
conductivity, aluminum alloys are used as electrical conductors. Aluminum reflects radiant
energy throughout the entire spectrum, and is nonsparking and nonmagnetic.
The most common aluminum alloy used in aerospace is 7075, which has zinc as the primary
alloying element. It is strong, with strength comparable to many steels, and has good fatigue
strength and average machinability, but has less resistance to corrosion than many other
aluminum alloys. Its chemical composition roughly includes 5.6-6.1% zinc, 2.1-2.5%
magnesium, 1.2-1.6% copper, and less than half a percent of silicon, iron, manganese, titanium,
chromium, and other metals. It is commonly produced in several heat temper grades.
Aluminum matrix composites: Metal matrix composites (MMCs) consist of metal alloys
reinforced with fibers, whiskers, particulates, or wires. Alloys of numerous metals (aluminum,
titanium, magnesium and copper) have been used as matrices to date. In the NASA Space
Shuttle, for example, 240 struts are made of aluminum reinforced with boron fibers.
Superplastic aluminum: Superplastic metal forming, a process similar to vacuum forming
plastic sheets, has been used to form low-strength aluminum into nonstructural parts such as
cash-register housings, luggage compartments for passenger trains, and nonload-bearing
aircraft components. But superplastic-formable high-strength aluminum alloy, a relatively
recent development, is available for structural applications and designated 7475-02. Strength of
alloy 7475 is in the range of aerospace alloy 7075, which requires conventional forming
operations. Although initial cost of 7475 is higher, finished part cost is usually lower than that
of 7075 because of the savings involved in the simplified design and assembly.
In the early days of composites, glass fibers were used to strengthen a matrix of epoxy resin.
This glass reinforced plastic (GRP) was used for radomes and helicopter blades but found

limited use in airplanes because of its low stiffness. In the 1960s, new fiber reinforcements were
introduced, including Kevlar, an aramid with the strength of glass fibers but stiffer. Today,
carbon fibers are the reinforcement of choice for aerospace composites.
Carbon fibers in aerospace composites can be long and continuous, or short and fragmented,
and they can be directionally or randomly oriented. In general, short fibers cost the least and
fabrication costs are lowest. But, as with glass, properties of resulting composites are lower than
those made with longer or continuous fibers.
Milled fibers are the shortest carbon fibers used for reinforcement. They range in length from
30 to 3,000 microns, averaging approximately 300 microns. Mean L/D ratio (length to
diameter) is 30. Short chopped fibers with an L/D ratio of about 800 increase strength and
modulus of composites more than milled fibers do. Cost of a molding compound reinforced
with short fibers is about twice that of one containing milled carbon fibers.
Long chopped fibers (up to two inches long) are often added to a thermosetting glass/polyester
sheet-molding compound to increase the stiffness of compression-molded parts. Continuous
carbon fibers provide the ultimate in performance and weight reduction. Continuous fibers are
available in a number of forms including yarns or tows containing 400 to 160,000 individual
filaments; unidirectional, impregnated tapes up to 60 in. wide; multiple layers of tape with
individual layers, or plies, at selected fiber orientation; and fabrics of various weights and
The important design properties of carbon composites are their high strength-to-weight and
stiffness-to-weight ratios. With proper selection and placement of fibers, composites can be
stronger and stiffer than steel parts with similar thicknesses but 40 to 70% less weight. Fatigue
resistance of continuous-fiber composites is excellent, and chemical resistance is better than
that of glass-reinforced composites, particularly in alkaline environments. Like most rigid
materials, however, carbon composites are relatively brittle. They have no yield behavior and
resistance to impact is low.
Thermal characteristics of carbon fibers differ from those of almost all other materials. Linear
expansion coefficients range from slightly negative for 30 million-psi modulus fibers to
approximately -1.3 106 in./(in.- F) for ultrahigh-modulus fibers. This property makes
possible the design of structures with zero or very low linear and planar thermal expansion a
valuable quality for components in precision instruments. Transverse coefficients of expansion
are quite different typically 15 10 6 in./(in.- F).

Comparing aerospace composites

Material Type Nomenclature Tensile strength Modulus (Msi) Strain (%)
































Carbon/Phenolic FM5055







Aerospace Composite Glossary

Adhesive: A thermoset resin such as epoxy or phenolic in the form of a film or paste, cured
under heat and pressure to bond a wide range of composite, metallic and honeycomb
Aramid: A strong, stiff fiber derived from polyaqmide. Kevlar and Nomex are aramids.
Carbon fiber: Fiber produced by carbonizing precursor fibers based on PAN, rayon, or
pitch. The term is often used interchangeably with graphite. However, carbon and graphite
fibers are made and heat treated at different temperatures and contain different amounts of
Composite materials: Materials made by combining two or more dissimilar materials
such as fibers and resins and having structural properties not present in the original
Engineered core: The forming, shaping, machining, or bonding of sheets or blocks of
honeycomb into profiled and complex shapes for use as semi-finished parts of composite
assemblies and structures.
Fiberglass: Filaments made by drawing molten glass. Often used as a composite

Filament winding: A process used to make composite-material components such as

rocket casings and cylinders. Fiber filaments are impregnated with a resin and wound over
a form or mandrel of the component. How the fibers are wound affects strength and
Honeycomb: A lightweight structure made from metallic sheets or on-metallic materials
such as resin-impregnated paper or woven fabric formed into hexagonal nested cells,
similar in appearance to a cross-section of beehive. The structure adds strength to finished
panels and parts.
Modulus of elasticity: The measure of a materials stiffness. The higher the modulus, the
stiffer the material.
Polyacrylonitrile (PAN): A polymer which gets spun into fibers used as a precursor
material when making certain carbon fibers.
Precursor: The PAN, rayon, or pitch fibers from which carbon or graphite fibers are
Prepreg (pre-impregnated): A composite material made by adding reinforcement fibers
or fabrics to a thermoset or thermoplastic resin matrix.
Primary structure: A critical load-bearing structure on an aircraft. If this structure is
severely damaged, the aircraft cannot fly.
Reinforcement: A strong material which gets mixed with a resin to form composite
materials. Reinforcements are usually continuous fibers, which may be woven. Fiberglass,
aramid and carbon fibers are typical reinforcements. Fabrics can also be used as
reinforcements, including those made using fiberglass, carbon, or aramid.
Resin matrix: A polymeric substrate such as epoxy or PEEK.
Sandwich panels: A stiff and lightweight panels consisting of thin sheets such as
aluminum or cured prepreg laminate bonded to a low-density, rigid-core material such as
foam or honeycomb.
Spectra: A high strength polyolefin fiber from Allied Signal. Woven Spectra fabrics are
strong and lightweight and are used in composite materials.

Tow: An untwisted bundle of continuous carbon filaments.

Yarn: A twisted bundle of glass filaments, not necessarily continuous.

Physical metallurgy is the science of making useful products out of metals. Metal parts
can be made in a variety of ways, depending on the shape, properties, and cost desired in
the finished product.
X Ray Diffraction Method:
X-ray crystallography is a tool used for identifying the atomic and molecular structure of
a crystal, in which the crystalline atoms cause a beam of incident X-rays to diffract into many
specific directions. By measuring the angles and intensities of these diffracted beams, a
crystallographer can produce a three-dimensional picture of the density of electrons within the
crystal. From this electron density, the mean positions of the atoms in the crystal can be
determined, as well as their chemical bonds, their disorder and various other information.

X-ray powder diffraction (XRD) is one of the most powerful techniques for qualitative and
quantitative analysis of crystalline compounds. The technique provides information that cannot be
obtained any other way. The information obtained includes types and nature of crystalline
phases present, structural make-up of phases, degree of crystalline, amount of amorphous content,
micro strain & size and orientation of crystallites.
Principles of Operation:
When a material (sample) is irradiated with a parallel beam of monochromatic X-rays,
the atomic lattice of the sample acts as a three dimensional diffraction grating causing
the X-ray beam to be diffracted to
specific angles. The diffraction pattern, that includes position (angles) and intensities of
the diffracted beam, provides several information about the sample and are discussed

Angles are used to calculate the interplanar atomic spacing (d- spacings).
Because every crystalline material will give a characteristic diffraction pattern
and can act as a unique fingerprint, the position (d) and intensity (I) information
are used to identify the type of material by comparing them with patterns for
over 80,000 data entries in the
International Powder Diffraction File (PDF) database, complied by the Joint

Committee for Powder Diffraction Standards (JCPDS). By this method,

identification of any crystalline compounds, even in a complex sample, can be

The position (d) of diffracted peaks also provides information about how the
atoms are arranged within the crystalline compound (unit cell size or lattice
parameter). The intensity information is used to assess the type and nature of
atoms. Determination of lattice parameter helps understand extent of solid
solution (complete or partial substitution of one element for another, as in some
alloys) in a sample.

Width of the diffracted peaks is used to determine crystallite size and microstrain in the sample.

Thed and I from a phase can also be used to quantitatively estimate the
amount of that phase in a multi-component mixture.

Quantitative Analysis:
As mentioned earlier, XRD can be used not only for qualitative identification but
also for quantitative estimation of various crystalline phases. This is one of the
important advantages of X-ray diffraction technique. Several methods have been
proposed and successfully used to quantify crystalline phases in mixtures. They
include external standard methods, the reference-intensity-ratio (RIR) method,
chemical methods and the whole pattern fitting Rietveld method. Of the
available methods, the Rietveld method is probably the most accurate and
reliable method. The Rietveld method is a whole-pattern fitting least squares
refinement technique and
has been successfully used for quantification and characterization of inorganic
and organic compounds It has also been used for crystal structure refinement, to
determine size and strain of crystallites.


Aluminum | Nickel | Cobalt | Stainless Steel | Titanium

Aluminum: 2000, 3000, 5000, 6000, and 7000 Series

Nickel: 200, 400, 600, 625, X, X-750, C-276, C263, and Waspaloy


Stainless Steel: 300 and 400 Series


Product Forms










Wire Shapes











Please contact us for pricing and additional information.


2000 Series
2014 is one of the strongest heat treatable alloys for screw machine applications. Good machinability
and high strength. Corrosion resistance is only fair; however, weldability is good with arc and resistance methods. In many
applications this alloy can be substituted for 2024.

2017 has good machinability and good mechanical properties. Typically used in aircraft structures,
rivets, connectors, hydraulic valve bodies and miscellaneous structural applications.

2017 has good machinability and good mechanical properties. Typically used in aircraft structures,
rivets, connectors, hydraulic valve bodies and miscellaneous structural applications.

2024 is heavily utilized in aircraft applications because it has good machining characteristics and higher
strength than both 2014 and 2017.

2219 has good machinability and good mechanical properties. Typically used in high temperature,
structural applications. Also used in high strength elements.

3000 Series
3003 is a non-heat-treatable alloy, its corrosion resistance and formability are excellent, but its
anodizing characteristics are rated as fair.

3004 is a non-heat treatable, corrosion resistant alloy that has comparable strength to 5052 because of
the magnesium addition, unfortunately this alloy sacrifices formability in tempers other than annealed. Machinability is
poor, but rates high in weldability.

5000 Series
5052 is one of the higher strength non-heat-treatable alloys. It has high fatigue strength and is a good
choice for structures subjected to excessive vibration. The alloy has excellent corrosion resistance, particularly in marine
atmospheres. The formability of the grade is excellent and in the annealed condition it offers higher strengths than 1100 or
3003 grades.

5086 is a medium to high strength non-heat-treatable alloy. The alloy has good weldability and is more
formable than alloy 5083. As this alloy is resistant to stress corrosion cracking and exfoliation, it has wide application in
the marine industry. Corrosion resistance is excellent.

6000 Series
6061 has very good corrosion resistance and finishability plus excellent weldability and a strength level
similar to mild steel; this is a popular general-purpose alloy.

6063 is an alloy with magnesium and silicon as the alloying elements. It has generally good mechanical

properties and is heat treatable and weldable.

7000 series
7050 has very high mechanical properties (tensile strength), high fracture toughness, along with a high

resistance to exfoliation and stress corrosion cracking. Typically used in aircraft structural parts.
7075 is one of the highest strength, commercially available alloys with fair corrosion resistance and


7175 is basically the high purity version of 7075 with tighter control on the iron and silicon for an
increase in strength and toughness. Primarily used in the aircraft industry.

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Nickel Based Alloys

Nickel 200
Commercially pure (99.6%) wrought nickel with good mechanical properties and resistance to a range
of corrosive media. Good thermal, electrical and magnetostrictive properties. Used for a variety of processing equipment,
particularly to maintain product purity in handling foods, synthetic fibers and alkalies.

Nickel 201
Commercially pure (99.6%) wrought nickel essentially the same as Nickel 200 but with a lower carbon
content to prevent embrittlement by intergranular carbon at temperatures over 600F (315C). Lower carbon content also
reduces hardness, making Nickel 201 particularly suitable for cold-formed items.

Alloy 400
A nickel-copper alloy with high strength and excellent corrosion resistance in a range of media including
sea water, hydrofluoric acid, sulfuric acid, and alkalies. Used for marine engineering, chemical and hydrocarbon
processing equipment, valves, pumps, shafts, fittings, fasteners, and heat exchangers.

Alloy 600
A nickel-chromium alloy with good oxidation resistance at high temperatures and resistance to chlorideion stress-corrosion cracking, corrosion by high-purity water, and caustic corrosion. Used for furnace components, in
chemical and food processing, in nuclear engineering, and for sparking electrodes.

Alloy 625
A nickel-chromium-molybdenum alloy with an addition of niobium that acts with the molybdenum to
stiffen the alloy's matrix and thereby provide high strength without a strengthening heat treatment. The alloy resists a wide

range of severely corrosive environments and is especially resistant to pitting and crevice corrosion. Used in chemical
processing, aerospace and marine engineering, pollution-control equipment, and nuclear reactors.

Alloy 718
A precipitation-hardenable nickel-chromium alloy also containing significant amounts of iron, niobium,

and molybdenum along with lesser amounts of aluminum and titanium. It combines corrosion resistance and high strength
with outstanding weldability including resistance to postweld cracking. The alloy has excellent creep-rupture strength at
temperatures to 1300F (700C). Used in gas turbines, rocket motors, spacecraft, nuclear reactors, pumps, and tooling.

Alloy X
A nickel-chromium-iron-molybdenum alloy with outstanding strength and oxidation resistance at
temperatures to 2200F (1200C). Matrix stiffening provided by the molybdenum content results in high strength in a solidsolution alloy having good fabrication characteristics. Used in gas turbines, industrial furnaces, heat-treating equipment,
and nuclear engineering.

Alloy X-750
A nickel-chromium alloy similar to alloy 600 but made precipitation-hardenable by additions of aluminum
and titanium. It has good resistance to corrosion and oxidation along with high tensile and creep-rupture properties at
temperatures to 1300F (700C). Its excellent relaxation resistance is useful for high-temperature springs and bolts. Used
in gas turbines, rocket engines, nuclear reactors, pressure vessels, tooling, and aircraft structures.

Alloy C-276
A nickel-molybdenum-chromium alloy with an addition of tungsten having excellent corrosion resistance
in a wide range of severe environments. The high molybdenum content makes the alloy especially resistant to pitting and
crevice corrosion. The low carbon content minimizes carbide precipitation during welding to maintain corrosion resistance
in as-welded structures. Used in pollution control, chemical processing, pulp and paper production, and waste treatment.

Alloy C-263
An age hardenable nickel-cobalt-chromium-molybdenum alloy that combines very good high
temperature strength properties with excellent ductility, formability and weldability.

Waspalloy (Trademark- Haynes International)

An age hardenable nickel based super alloy with very good strength at temperatures of about 1800
Degrees Fahrenheit. It is widely used as a wrought material for forged and fabricated gas turbine and aerospace

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Cobalt Alloys

L-605 is a nonmagnetic solid-solution strengthened cobalt base alloy that has good oxidation-corrosion
resistance as well as high strength at elevated temperatures. Has been used for gas turbine rotors, nozzle diaphragm
valves, springs, etc.

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Stainless Steel

300 Series (Austenitic Stainless Steels) Because of the presence of alloying elements such as manganese,
nickel and chromium, shows stability of austenite at normal temperatures. They have excellent ductility and formability,
excellent corrosion resistance and good weldability.

301 is a lower cost alternative to the conventional high nickel austenitic steels such as 304. It has good
welding, formability and corrosion resistance, which makes it suitable for applications such as kitchen appliances, pots,
pans, automobile molding and trim.

302 is an austenitic, nonmagnetic, extremely tough and ductile, this is one of the most widely used of
the chrome-nickel stainless and heat-resisting steels. Non-hardenable by heat treating.

304/304L is the most versatile and widely used of all the stainless steels. Their chemical composition,
mechanical properties, weldability and corrosion resistance provides the best all round performance at relatively lower
cost. Non-hardenable by heat treating.

316/316L is a molybdenum bearing austenitic stainless steel that contains more nickel than 304 and 23% molybdenum. The resulting composition gives these steels improved corrosion resistance in many aggressive
environments and resistance to pitting corrosion.

321 is an austenitic chrome-nickel stainless, titanium added, for parts intermittently heated to
temperatures between 800/1650F (427/899C). It is designed to eliminate intergranular corrosion in the as-welded

347 is a columbium-stabilized austenitic stainless steel which resists carbide precipitation during
welding and intermittent heating to 800/1650F (427/899C). Good high temperature scale resistance.

400 Series (Martensitic and Ferritic Stainless Steels). These are chromium stainless steels with a variety of
carbon levels. They work hardenable.

410 is a hardenable martensitic stainless alloy used for highly stressed parts needing good corrosion
resistance and strength. Can be heat-treated to obtain high-strength properties with good ductility.

430 is a corrosion- and heat-resisting chrome steel. It has been useful for many types of decorative trim.
Hardness can be moderately increased by cold-working, but the alloy cannot be hardened by heat-treating.

440C is a high carbon straight chromium high hardenability martensitic stainless steel. Characterized by

good corrosion resistance in mild domestic and industrial environments, including fresh water, organic materials, mild
acids, various petroleum products, coupled with extreme high strength, hardness and wear resistance when in the
hardened and tempered condition.

Precipitation Hardening Stainless Steel - Hardenable by heat treatment at relatively low temperatures that
prevent scaling and distortion of the steel.
13-8 is a martensitic precipitation/age-hardening stainless steel capable of high strength and hardness

along with good levels of resistance to both general corrosion and stress-corrosion cracking. Generally, this alloy should
be considered where high strength, toughness, corrosion resistance, and resistance to stress-corrosion cracking are
required in a steel showing minimal directionality in properties.
15-5 is a martensitic precipitation-hardening stainless steel that provides high strength, good corrosion

resistance, good mechanical properties at temperatures up to 600F(316C) and good toughness in both the longitudinal
and transverse directions in both base metal and welds. Short-time, low temperature heat treatment minimizes distortion
and scaling.
17-4 -This alloy is a martensitic precipitation/age-hardening stainless alloy offering high strength and

hardness along with excellent corrosion resistance.

17-7 is a precipitation hardening stainless steel that provides high strength and hardness, excellent

fatigue properties, good corrosion resistance, good formability, and minimum distortion upon heat treatment.
A286 is an Iron-base austenitic stainless steel that has notched rupture strength superior to any other

alloy with comparable high-temperature properties. Can be precipitation hardened and strengthened by heat treatment.
Good for service at temperatures to 1300F (704C). Has been used for numerous jet engine applications. Non-magnetic.

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CP-1 - Lower strength, softest, unalloyed t grade with highest ductility, cold formability, and impact toughness,
with excellent resistance to mildly reducing to highly oxidizing media with or without chlorides and high weldability.

CP-2 - Moderate strength unalloyed Ti with excellent weldability, cold formability, and fabricability grade for
industrial service with excellent resistance to mildly reducing to highly oxidizing media with or without chlorides.

6AL- 4V - Heat treatable, high-strength, most commercially available alloy, for use up to 400C. It offers an
excellent combination of high strength, toughness, and ductility along with good weldability and fabricability.

6AL- 4V ELI - Extra low interstitial version of Ti-6Al-4V offering improved ductility and fracture toughness in air
and saltwater environments, along with excellent toughness, strength, and ductility in cryogenic service as low as -255C.