Aerospace is one of the largest and arguably most influential champions of engineered composite materials. Since their development and mainstream implementation, composites have changed the way that commercial aircraft, military craft, helicopters, private jets and space craft have been engineered both inside and out. Composites have directly contributed to the innovation of the aerospace industry by reducing overall aircraft weight, increasing speed and improving fuel efficiency.
ADVANTAGES OF COMPOSITES IN AEROSPACE
We have already touched on the most notable advantage: weight saving, but the list of advantages doesn’t stop there. Take a more comprehensive look at the advantages of composite materials.
- Improved Strength: composites are monocoque molded, which means they are ‘single-shell’ structures that deliver more strength at a very low weight. Improved strength decreases damage which improves accident survivability for airplanes and helicopters.
- Thermal stability: composites don’t expand or contract due to temperature changes. This is particularly important for aircraft subject to extreme temperature changes like a space craft exiting the earth’s atmosphere or a plane on a 90°F runway.
- High Impact Resistance: composites, like Kevlar, shield planes under extreme conditions like high wind, reducing accidental damage to key features such as engine controls and fuel lines.
Reduced Corrosion: unlike when two dissimilar metals are in contact, composites have shown a lack of corrosion, particularly in humid environments. This extends the shelf life of aircraft saving our military and commercial aircraft companies millions of dollars.
REAL LIFE APPLICATION:
1. Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner
As airlines have created larger and more luxurious aircraft, the weight and density of materials have reached an all-time high. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is composed of nearly 50% carbon fiber and other reinforced plastics, giving the Dreamliner a 20% reduction in weight as compared to more traditional aircraft.
2. The Enstrom 480B
The Enstrom 480B combines both vintage and contemporary composite technology, like a glass/polyester cabin which is very similar to what was built in the 1960s, while aramid/epoxy sandwich panels with a honeycomb core constitute the cabin back wall and floor. A new more advanced engineering technique. You may recognize this helicopter from your vacations as they are commonly used for scenic tours in locations all over the world.
THE FUTURE OF COMPOSITES IN AEROSPACE
In recent years the commercial aircraft industry has been under an increasing amount of pressure to create a better flying experience for both its customers and the environment. The aerospace industry has been working to find the delicate balance between the increasing cost of fuel and the agenda of environmental lobbyists. Composites play a large role in taking the first steps to achieving this balance. Composites can help aircraft engineers simplify the design process by reducing component count and corrosion reduction. The competitive nature of aircraft design and construction guarantees further use and development of composites. Competition exists in the military sphere as well, with a growing need to increase weight capacity and travel range.
As composite technology continues to develop and the invention of new types such as basalt and carbon nanotube surface, composite usage is certain to grow and extend across many industries. When it comes to aerospace, composite materials aren’t going anywhere!
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