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Aircraft Structures

Three engineers examine the aircraft fuselage


Aircraft Structures

Aircraft Structures

By John Routledge


We are only in the early stages of composite aircraft fuselages. Pressurised aircraft structures currently flying are still, the majority, of semi-monocoque, fail-safe construction.

The major aircraft designers and manufacturers would probably describe their philosophy as follows:

1. Failsafe... The ability for an aircraft structure to be damaged and still withstand high loads infrequently.

2. Damage Tolerance...The ability of the structure to sustain anticipated loads in the presence of damage such as cracks, corrosion, exfoliation damage, until such times as the maintenance programme and inspection will detect and subsequently require repair of the damage.

3. Safe Life Structures... For structures and components which it is not practical to design or qualify as damage tolerant, their reliability would be protected by safe life limits applied, that would require removal from service prior to life expiry.

Type approval

The original type approval for the aircraft and its associated structure was based on fatigue test information at the time of design and subsequently at type approval by authorised bodies.

It is therefore critical that at repair and overhaul times during deep maintenance of these aircraft, the fatigue enhancement process controls are reproduced in a manner equivalent to that used on new production.

Controlled Shot Peening

The application of Controlled Shot Peening is required to reconstitute the initial design specifications of residual compressive stress, with particular attention to depth and magnitude, in order to provide the level of damage tolerance specified by the aircraft manufacturers for that particular component's surface.

Certain components, not subjected to controlled shot peening at original manufacture, may subsequently, after service repair and probable reduction in section thickness, have a requirement for the introduction of residual compressive stress in order to re-generate the component life and structural integrity. The Controlled Shot Peening specifications will thus be applied at that repair and overhaul stage.

Future materials for use in aircraft structures

Sandwich aerospace composite structures are favoured contenders because they can be used in panels which are inherently much more stiff on a weight-for-weight basis than solid panels. The efficiency of honeycomb structures can make even stainless steels competitive, and honeycomb panel in controlled transformation stainless steels has been used in airframes. The recent development of processes which combine superplastic forming with diffusion bonding has even brought titanium alloys back into the picture.

Titanium responds particularly well to the diffusion bonding process. Stiffened panels in Ti-6A14V can be manufactured by diffusion bonding thin titanium parts, shaped by superplastic forming, giving weight savings of around 30% can be achieved in this way.

A reduction in density of one-third has a greater effect in reducing structural weight than an improvement of 50% in either strength or stiffness. Any preliminary assessment of material suitability for structural purposes in aircraft must take this into account.

aviation-database.com [http://www.aviation-database.com/] has lots of resources for the aircraft industry. The web is a vast source of information. Aviation-database collects the industry into one huge database of contacts. Aircraft structures [http://www.aviation-database.com/aviation_database_pages1/Aircraft-structures-and-the-use-of-aerospace-composites.html] and the recent developments aerospace composite structures is examined in this technical insight encouraging you to search the database for contacts to help you further.


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John Routledge

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