Materials


Aircraft Structures

Technical Applications

Summary

Aircraft structures are a particular example of combining design tools, fabrication techniques, and specific materials to create more highly optimized physical structures.

Characteristics

Structural technology has always been a key driver for aircraft advancement. The use by Chanute and the Wright Brothers of the braced box concept instead of the earlier, bird-like structural design approach was one of the factors that made manned flight possible, and the use of stressed- skin metal construction (such as the DC-3) made the commercial transport a viable economic proposition. Structural technology has a primary influence on aircraft empty weight, which directly drives purchase price and operating cost, as well as influencing range and payload.

ImpactEconomy

Aircraft structures make a contribution to meeting job creation and economic growth by contributing to the success and competitiveness of the U.S. aircraft industry. They also contribute to meeting the U.S. warfighting capabilities by enhancing performance of military aircraft. Aircraft structures are essential to competitiveness in the aerospace industry, with impact on both commercial and military segments. The fibers of polymer matrix composites can be aligned, forming a material with anisotropic properties. If carefully designed for an application, such materials allow a lighter, smaller structure to replace larger, usually metal ones. So far, the application of such structures has been limited to those demanding the highest performance. These have usually been in the aerospace industry, frequently in military systems.

WorldView

Japan lags Europe and the United States in computational structural mechanics for aircraft applications, and has relied heavily on Western-developed computational mechanical analysis tools to support most of its advanced aircraft structures programs. The European aircraft production industry is slightly behind the innovative developments now entering applied engineering in the most advanced U.S. fighter and commercial aircraft acquisition programs.