11 Feb Airplanes and Aircraft – What Are They Made Of?
Since the days of the Wright Brothers, man’s fascination with flying has brought on many changes due to increased technology and necessity. Construction of new materials has been developed and still new changes are being sought. Let’s look at some of the changes.
In the early years of aviation, planes were made of fabric and low weight wood, due to their availability. Wire, struts and braces were used for structural strength. The fabric was a closely weaved fabric like linen. As the travel speeds increased, so did the need for better, stronger materials in aircraft construction. Laminated wood and monocoque construction were first used in the 1930’s. Monocoque is a construction technique that supports structural load by using an object’s external skin. When aircraft were made of fabric, they were hard to maintain since they deteriorated when left outside, due to the elements. So metal began to be used for aircraft. There were problems with metal too.
In 1919 to 1934 they began the construction of all metal planes with aluminum surfaces and others used a construction of metal monocoque. As manufacturing skills got better, building lighter planes became easier. However, metal corrodes and is subject to fatigue. New procedures were needed in order to protect against this. Aluminum alloys and new metals like titanium and molybdenum were used for the extra strength as well as for thermal resistance. Speeds increased to Mach 3, so techniques to avoid the effects of heat caused by aerodynamics were introduced. Advanced alloys use carbon, silicon carbide, ceramics, titanium as well as aluminum.
The new high quality aluminum is stronger than the carbon fiber reinforce plastic that has been used in aircraft wings and can reduce weight up to another 20 percent. Aircraft wings built with this special aluminum fiber combination can protect them against metal fatigue. This material can be a contribution to making energy efficient aircraft. It could provide a reduced maintenance and fuel cost of billions of dollars.
The new aluminum materials allow for the possibility of carefree structures. Carefree, meaning less sensitivity to fatigue, hail, and corrosion, resulting in much lower maintenance cost.
We’ve come a long way since that first airplane. As, we continue to develop ways to travel faster and further, let’s hope the new developments continue to include ways to remain cost and environmentally efficient.