Aircraft must be the right weight to maximize fuel efficiency, keeping it more cost-effective and generally efficient in the long term. In pushing for lighter aircraft, many planes, jetliners, and other aircraft have adopted aircraft composites in their construction.
Composite materials provide the same durability and overall reliability as other materials with the added benefit of weight reduction. Learn more about how these materials have made their way into today’s aircraft and the specific advantages that come with them.
Over the years since the inception of aircraft, the materials used to construct them have evolved with new technological developments. The earliest aircraft were made with wood, fabric, and twine materials, with most parts comprising these materials. By the 1930s, most aircraft consisted of all-metal construction, with most components now made with aluminum alloys and other metals that offer dependable thermal resistance and superior durability.
Eventually, composite materials came onto the scene after the 1940s—the first aircraft to consist of fiberglass construction was the Boeing 707 passenger jet, which took to the air in the 1950s. Fast forward to today, and most aircraft consist of fiberglass or other composite materials, with many Airbus and Boeing jets made of carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) aircraft composites.
Composite materials are specific types of materials made of two or more base materials. Combining these materials enhances their properties to form a new substance that offers superior strength, reduced weight, and other properties.
In aviation, one of the most commonly used composite materials is carbon fiber, including the aforementioned CFRP that’s in many of today’s commercial planes. Other composite materials could also go into aircraft construction, including other fiber-reinforced composites made with materials like aramid and glass, along with laminates that use multiple sheets of materials.
One of the main benefits of aircraft composites over other materials is their great strength-to-weight ratio, making them lighter without compromising their durability and resistance to extreme temperatures.
The more an aircraft weighs, the more fuel it will need to fly. One rule of fuel economy in aviation is that for every 1% of reduced weight, the aircraft benefits from a 0.75% reduction in fuel consumption. As a result, if an aircraft consists of the right materials to minimize weight, it will be able to use less fuel to fly.
Many airlines have found that reducing weight had significant impacts on fuel efficiency, including Virgin Atlantic, which estimated that eliminating a pound of weight per aircraft would save as much as 53,000 liters of fuel per year. This translates to tens of thousands of dollars in reduced costs. As more aviation companies look for ways to reduce weight in aircraft, they continue to turn to composite materials for weight reduction.
There are many potential applications for composite materials in aviation. The following components often consist of composites:
Today, many aircraft rely on these materials for their various advantages, including the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, 80% of which comprises composite materials like CFRP. Also, the Airbus A350 XWB consists of composite materials such as carbon fiber in the wings and carbon-based composites in the fuselage, wingbox, and other components.
Today, more research continues in the composite materials industry and aircraft applications. For example, NASA is working on an advanced composites project within its Aeronautics Research division, which will benefit not only spacecraft construction but aircraft construction as well.
One material that gives us a glimpse of the future of composites is metal-matrix nanocomposite material, which offers superior electrical conductivity and tensile strength.
Ultimately, the future of aircraft construction looks brighter than ever as manufacturers and researchers look for ways to develop new composites that help with weight reduction and resistance to all types of conditions and substances.
If you want to implement composite materials, there are some key considerations to keep in mind before making your material selections and integrating aircraft composites. One big challenge applies to the cost of changing designs. You’ll want to consider how integrating composite materials could impact your manufacturing process and potentially increase costs.
Also, you’ll want to choose the right materials based on durability and maintenance requirements. The ideal material will provide sufficient durability while minimizing the need for maintenance and repairs, which will further impact performance and cost. Additionally, you must maintain compliance with today’s aviation regulations, making it important to consider regulatory and certification requirements under the FAA and other agencies.
The future of composite materials will continue to involve looking for ways to optimize fuel efficiency and reduce the weight of aircraft components. One specific material in the spotlight is carbon nanotube (CN) technology, which offers the same strength as carbon fiber composites with the added benefit of increased flexibility. The use of CN materials could result in lower wing manufacturing costs and improved protection from electromagnetic forces.
The use of composites in aircraft is also likely to improve the industry’s impact on the environment. Less fuel usage means more sustainability, and long-lasting materials will reduce the need for more material production for replacements and maintenance.
Composite materials are only going to continue playing a big part in aircraft construction, helping to reduce aircraft weight and optimizing fuel efficiency. New technological advancements and increasingly reliable materials will make aircraft more efficient than ever, saving companies more money while reducing environmental impact.
Since our establishment in 1989, Aerodine Composites has developed into a leading supplier of composite components and tooling for customers in the aircraft industry and others. We specialize in hand layup with either press or autoclave molding, which helps us develop top-quality products for our customers.
If you’re looking for some of the best composite materials for your application, turn to Aerodine Composites today. If you would like to get started on a project with us, request a quote today and we’ll connect you with one of our experts.