Aircraft Structural Components

1. Introduction to Aircraft Structures History
As with all other aspects involved with an aircraft, the structural design and layout has changed markedly over the history of flight, in line with technological advances and new discoveries. These notes will highlight some of the more substantial developments made during the history of manned flight and includes comments on the reasons behind the changes and any repercussions.

2. Earliest Aircraft
2.1 Wooden Biplanes
The earliest aircraft of all, of course, is the Wright Flyer (1903) – Figure 2.1

Figure 2.1 Structural layout and configuration of Wright Flyer Its main structural characteristics include: Biplane main wing, canard, rudder and fore/aft fuselage all use similar structural arrangement of rectangular trussed sections comprising: Solid vertical strut members. Wire bracing stretched from corner to corner. Wing section formed by thin ribs in flight direction and skin covering. The basic philosophy behind this structural design, and of many similar aircraft built just afterwards, was:

Figure 2.2 for some typical examples. for the likes of aerobatics & crop-sprayer aircraft.• The use of biplane main wings led to a lighter & stronger structure than would result from using a single wing structure (monoplane). The concept was largely ignored by the Britain aircraft manufacturing community due to conservatism and concerns over strength & durability. • The rectangular frame shapes were held in place by two light diagonal wires rather than one single heavy diagonal member. This was the dominant design for many years (until the mid 30’s) & such designs are still occasionally used. Some of the most prominent early . This included: • Wood for the vast majority of the structure .2 Biplane fighter aircraft of WWI – Breguet 14 & Sopwith Camel (both 1917) 2. • The compression loads were concentrated into a small number of compact rods. The layout results in a very light aircraft. aerobatics types with good low-speed manoeuvrability needs). The materials used were the cheapest available at that time and also the most easily worked.firstly bamboo then spruce. • Cotton muslin fabric for skin covering. The major structural advantages of the layout are high rigidity and consequently good bending and torsional resistance. • Wire bracing was used to support all the tensile loads. This layout is suitable for aircraft with low wing loading (W/S) requirements (e.2 Wooden Monoplanes This new concept originated in Europe and included the use of a dedicated trussed fuselage and monoplane wing.g. as would have been suggested by observations of bird flight. • Piano wire for bracing. typically only about 10% of the weight of an equivalent sized modern metal-skinned aircraft! The majority of WWI aircraft were based upon this configuration – see Figure 2.

5 Bleriot aircraft fuselage structural details By the end of WWI (1918).3 Bleriot XI (1909) Figure 2. struts & cross-wire bracing (Figure 2.4 Bleriot aircraft wing structural details Figure 2. certain aircraft structural design features were virtually standard. The fuselage structure incorporated a standard civil engineering Pratt truss type of design. To improve lift. comprising 4 main longerons running down its length with additional support from spacers. wings were now manufactured with much thicker sections and had much less lower surface curvature. The wing structure comprised two thin wooden spars with external wire bracing to independently support lifting & landing tensile loads (Figure 2.3). This allowed for .5). Figure 2.4).aircraft to use this design approach were those of Louis Bleriot. the first to successfully undertake an aerial English Channel crossing (Figure 2.

thus improving wing second moment of area values (Figure 2.7 Fokker D.6) and thus the overall wing strength and stiffness.the use of deeper spars. Figure 2. Examples of such aircraft include the Fokker D. This consequently removed the need for external wire bracing.VII (1918) and Fokker DR-1 (1917) (Figure 2.VII and Fokker DR-1 .6 Sectional depth effects on structural deflection Figure 2.7).

with some manufacturers reluctant to move away from their wood-working facilities and experience. Some still used fabric coverings for the wing and/or fuselage.3 The Use of Metal There was a fairly gradual change-over from the use of wood to the use of metal from WWI onwards. though the Junkers J-1 monoplane (1910) was built entirely from metal (steel tubing & thin sheet iron coverings) while the Fokker DR-1 triplane (1917) also used steel tubing for fuselage truss members. however. It was a fairly gradual changeover. The change to all or mostly all metal construction was almost complete by the time of Hawker Hurricane (1935). Figure 2.8 Junkers J-1 and Fokker DR-1 Figure 2. and certainly prior to start of WWII in 1939. . the Hawker Fury (1931) only used metal in the form of steel tubes for the main fuselage members. a typical aircraft of the 1930’s.2. along with the usual cross-wire bracing. For instance. The most notable all-wooden aircraft by the time of WWII was the highly successful Mosquito fighter aircraft.9 Hawker Fury (1931) A major reason for the greater use and adoption of metal for the airframe was due to the short supply of spruce directly after WWI. such as the Hurricane and Vickers Wellington. however. Wood was still used extensively elsewhere.

DC-1. DC-2 and DC-3 airliners. the Boeing 247.Figure 2.makes use of additional internal stiffening framework. Designers soon recognized that the designs applicable to flying boat fuselage construction (Figure 2. . e. This arose because of the major problems caused by the standard internal cross-bracing in the fuselage as aircraft developed requirements to carry passengers & payload internally. Figure 2. This was mainly driven by the US designers. The main structural advantage is that the skin is then an integral load-carrying working part of the overall structure.11 Sikorsky S-42 Clipper (1934) Soon after the fuselages came stressed-skin wings. with the advent of stressed-skin or semi-monocoque construction methods. who were dominant in building large capacity transports & bombers at that time.10 Hawker Hurricane (1935) & Boeing P-26 Peashooter (1932) piece • “coque” .skin or egg shell • “semi-” . The wording can be broken down into: • “mono” .11) were also appropriate for transport aircraft use. the B-9 and B-10 bombers.g.4 Stressed-Skin Construction A major universal breakthrough in aircraft structural design occurred in the 1930’s. This concept has been used on virtually all aircraft designed since 1930’s.

Figure 2. Messerschmitt (Germany) and Supermarine (UK) were the only Europeans making stressed-skin wings by the mid 1930’s. ribs & stringers. mainly because they were working on smaller aircraft and it was more difficult to scale down the stressed-skin technology. longerons (for fuselage) or spars (for wing). The European designers and manufacturers lagged behind their US counterparts by about 5 years.14 Messerschmitt Bf-109 and Supermarine Spitfire (both 1939) . the standard airframe was of aluminium alloy construction with a structural load carrying skin riveted to frames.12 Douglas DC-1 (1933) & Being B-9 (1931) By this stage.13 Standard airframe construction by mid 1930’s Figure 2.Figure 2.

more lift and increased wing loadings. . All of these problems forced the need for increased wing torsional (twisting) stiffness. Figure 3.000 ft altitude. the Spitfire. several previously unknown aeroelastic phenomena became apparent for fighters during WWII. including: • Wing and control surface flutter • Divergence • Control surface (especially aileron) reversal.g.) reduced the wing span in order to help alleviate the problem. As a direct result. P-51 Mustang. etc. etc. all of which cruised at around 20.000 ft with cabin pressures equivalent to that experienced at 8. minimization of structural cut-outs & careful consideration and alleviation of stress concentrations (by using rounded fuselage door corners.1 Lockheed Constellation & Douglas DC-6 3.3. A particular problem for WWII fighters was the lack of roll response in high speed dives – several aircraft (e.1 Pressurized Fuselages The use of cabin pressurization in the mid 1940’s to improve the flying environment for passengers and crew led to considerably increased fuselage strength requirements. Douglas DC-6 and Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. This directly led to the adoption of circular sections as the norm.).2 Aeroelasticity Problems Rapid advances in aerodynamics & propulsion technology during the 1940’s led to higher speeds. Some of the earliest aircraft to use pressurization were the Lockheed Constellation. Major Aerostructures Developments since WWII 3.

allied with the advent of the turbojet propulsion era and design against metal fatigue.Figure 3. The resultant cracks first appeared in areas of high stress concentrations. These were consequently more difficult to wrap around the internal structural framework. led to the need for thicker wing skins. Advantages include: • Less riveted fasteners so less wing drag. By the late 50’s integral construction was commonly being used to form the skin and stringers as one.3 Manufacturing Techniques – Integral Construction Increased aircraft speeds. This can be mainly attributed to the non-consideration of low-cycle pressurisation & depressurisation and the resultant effects on weakening the structural strength (i. by stretch-forming. • Easier optimal tapering of skin thickness with weight benefits. alternatively. • Improved fuel tank volume. in these cases at the corners of the non-rounded windows. By the 1950’s. • Fewer stress concentrations so reduced fatigue issues.4 Metal Fatigue Problems The potentially catastrophic effects of metal fatigue were highlighted for the aerospace community in 1954 when 2 DeHavilland Comet jet airliners disintegrated in flight within 3 months of each other.e. metal fatigue). and soon propagated with disastrous consequences. . 3.2 P-51 Mustang (1942) 3. • Easier to seal fuel tanks. These would be machined from a solid slab of aluminium alloy with perhaps 95% of original material removed. the skins were usually pre-formed by rolling or.

major wing structural design changes were caused and forced by adopting Busemann’s wing sweep theory for reducing high-speed wing drag. rounded windows.3 DeHavilland Comet (1954) Subsequent aircraft fuselages were better designed to withstand such problems.5 High Speed Problems 3.1 Swept Wings After WWII.5 F-86 Sabre (1947) & MiG-15 Fagot (1949) .Figure 3. through the use of: increased skin thicknesses. the use of crack-resistant copper-rich aluminium alloys and the increased use of welding.5. chemical etching and integrally machined panels.4 Saab J-29 Tunnan (1948) & Boeing B-47 Stratojet (1947) Figure 3. 3. multiple load paths (“fail-safe” design). bonding. Figure 3.

due to aerodynamic considerations (in order to reduce the magnitude of the wave drag due to thickness component). This clearly complicated the fuselage structural design and layout for more details. This involved the incorporation of a gradual change in overall sectional area.6 F-102 A Delta Dagger (1956) & B-58 Hustler (1959) Although the rule still applies.5.2 Area Rule Technology Major fuselage structure changes were forced by the adoption of Whitcomb’s area ruling theory. Figure 3.4%. The adoption of such thin wing sections led to the common use of multi-cell & multi-spar wing structures: .3 Thin Wings Much thinner wings were needed as aircraft speeds continued to increase during the 1950’s and 60’s. An example includes the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter (1956) with a cruise speed in excess of Mach 2 and a wing t/c ratio of only 3.3. thereby producing an 14 ideal Sears-Haack body area distribution. this requires the reduction in fuselage area where the wing and tail is attached and the narrowing down elsewhere.5. 3. In particular. the visible fuselage “waisting” is no longer common.wikipedia. the same effect is now achieved much more subtlely by careful positioning of aircraft components. in order to reduce the high speed wave drag component. Refer to http://en.

• H-11 steel & titanium alloy skin for aft fuselage. The design solution adopted by the structural and materials design engineers incorporated: • Titanium alloys used for the forward fuselage skin & frames and highstrength H-11 steel used for the stiffeners.8 Concorde (1 976) & B-58 Hustler (1959) The XB-70 Valkyrie (1964) had even greater problems than Hustler or Concorde due to its even higher speed (Mach 3 cruise).g. • Titanium wing spars with sin-wave webs.7 Lockheed F-104 Starfighter (1956) & A-5 Vigilante (1958) 3. These effects can easily lead to significant thermal stresses and expansion/contraction problems and are big design considerations for supersonic aircraft. • Welded joints. This meant that the aircraft developed maximum local temperatures of about 340oC and average airframe temperature of about 280oC during its flights.9 Valkyrie XB-70 (1964) . titanium. where steadystate temperatures of up to 128oC may result for Mach 2 cruise.4 Kinetic Heating Ever-increasing aircraft speeds during the 1950’s led to additional previously unencountered problems in the form of large temperature gradients due to kinetic (aerodynamic) heating.Figure 3. Figure 3.5. Concorde & B-58 Hustler. • Brazed stainless steel honeycomb sandwich panels used for the intermediate fuselage & wing. e. etc.) and the incorporation of cutouts to accommodate thermal expansion limits. Design solutions include careful material selection (the increased use of high-temperature resistant steel. Figure 3.

This included the aeroelastic tailoring of the nacelle & wing/body intersection in order to reduce potential flutter problems and also allowed for the major extensive use of composite materials.7. 3. Finite element analysis was used first of all during the structural support and development phases of the Boeing 747 airliner design programme in the mid 1960’s. The improved analysis capabilities (all later verified through testing) led directly to the evolution of several new design concepts. All of the major components were analyzed using the force method of linear elasticity with three basic elements (rod. The computer codes used by the engineers were all written in the assembly language and were run on an IBM 7095 mainframe computer.10 DeHavilland Mosquito The most common form of sandwich material uses a metal (usually aluminium alloy) core of honeycomb cells with thin aluminium alloy facing skins (Figure 3. etc. shear panel & built-up beam) used for the modeling.11). It has also been used extensively in spacecraft applications. flaps. The Mosquito (Figure 3.3. .10) was first to use a form of sandwich construction.1 Sandwich Structures This is an ideal way of providing thin sheets with an improved compressive buckling stability.g. secondary aircraft sub-structures (e. This type of material has been in common use since the 1960’s for many thin. spoilers.). its fuselage comprised plywood skins and a balsa core.7 Advanced Materials Technology 3.6 Computing Advances Computers were first used in earnest on aircraft during XB-70 Valkyrie structural development programme. Figure 3. The standard structural hand calculations were heavily supported by extensive use of matrix structural analysis methods on computers.

• Fibreglass was used for the facing skins on aluminium honeycomb sandwich panels for the Boeing 747 control surfaces (1969). Disadvantages include: • Costly. e. horizontal tail. . • High values of specific strength & stiffness.2 Composites Composites are simply combinations of two or more different materials so have been in general use for many years in differing forms: • The DeHavilland Mosquito fuselage used spruce fairings on balsa wood core. is that of Carbonfibre Reinforced Plastics (CFRP). forward fuselage. which is becoming increasingly dominant and of widespread use in the aerospace field.7. CFRP makes up: • 26% of the total weight of the AV-8B Harrier (1981) – including the wing. complicated & lengthy manufacturing processes. The modern conception of a composite material.11 Honeycomb sandwich panel construction Some of the advantages associated with the use of such honeycomb sandwich materials include: • Excellent resistance to buckling & sonic fatigue. • 72% of the total weight of a Beech Starship (1986). • Attachment of hardware to the panels difficult. making it unsuitable for many military applications. necessitating the use of special “inserts”. • Field repair is a difficult and specialized task. as described earlier.g. • 12% of the total weight of a Boeing 777 (1995).Figure 3. fragile facing skins are susceptible to damage. 3. however. • 50% of the total weight of a Boeing 787 (2008). • Fibreglass/polyester composites were used for the radomes on many WWII aircraft. • The thin.

Figure 3.7.12 Beech Starship & Boeing 787 3.3 Other Advanced Materials Many other materials have been suggested. . developed and sometimes tried on aircraft structures. etc. • Metal matrix composites. • Aramid/aluminium laminates. • Thermoplastics. including: • Aluminium/lithium alloys.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful