In the aerospace industry, the performance criteria required for materials are significantly higher than in other sectors. They include prioritizing metrics like good fatigue resistance, high stiffness, high strength, and lightweight.
The military sector was the first to use composites, and after gaining success, transitioned it to the commercial aviation industry.
The Airbus 320 comprises several components, such as the tailplane and fin, and saves around 800kg with composites, which would otherwise be used with aluminum production. Composite materials make up more than 20% of the A380 airframe. Glass-fiber reinforced and carbon-fiber reinforced are widely used indoors, tail surfaces, fuselage sections, and wings.
Fiberglass is made of glass fibers encompassed in a resin matrix – this is the most common composite material. First used in the Boeing 707 passenger jet design, it has gained plenty of prominence over the years.
After the 1980s, composites were used to produce secondary wing and tail components, such as rudders and wing trailing edge panels.
Over the last few decades, Boeing has continued to expand the amount of composite material in its aircraft. In fact, advanced composites make up 50% of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It includes the key structural parts, mainly advanced carbon laminate, and carbon composites, and is a significant shift from an earlier time when fiberglass composites were used instead.
On a similar note, aramid fibers are used to build edge wing components (both leading and trailing), floors, and fuel tanks.
Commercial aerospace manufacturers are in a conundrum: they have to keep up with the rising fuel costs while improving the aircraft’s performance, and reducing weight are equally important at the same time.
Considering the current progress of composite construction, it is likely that next-generation airplanes will be mostly made of advanced composites.
Still, there are some obstacles to tackle before composites can entirely replace metal alloys and other traditional materials, especially in larger aircraft. These hurdles include the cost of composites; they are more expensive. Besides, they also need more resources, such as fabrication machines and a larger labor force.
Meanwhile, composite technology is evolving rapidly, and the introduction of more advanced composites like carbon nanotubes will improve the mainstream adoption of composites.
Do you need help with composite manufacturing for your aircraft? Get in touch with Pacific Aerospace Corp (PAC) today to learn more about our services.