The Materials Used in the Design of Aircraft Wings
Various factors need to be taken into consideration when designing an aircraft, the most important being its function. For example, the demands of a commercial jet and a military fighter jet are completely different, resulting in various different requirements, which in turn result in different degrees of complexity in design and composition. A wide range of materials may be used in the design of an aircraft, each with their own strength, elasticity, density, and corrosion resistance ratings.
Wood, bearing sufficient mechanical and physical properties to achieve flight, was used in the construction of first generation of aircraft. Today, wood is no longer used because of its limitations in strength and durability, with other materials with significantly higher strength-to-weight ratios readily available. Following wood, metals such as steel, aluminum, titanium, and other alloys were introduced to the burgeoning aviation industry. In addition to metals, composite materials were also introduced due to their strength, relatively low weight, and resistance to corrosion. As composite materials become more advanced, they have gradually begun to increase in popularity, leading to the decline of metallic materials too.
Aircraft wings are different than the rest of the aircraft in that they can be designed as a combination of different types of materials depending on the structural function. The spars, skin, ribs, ailerons, and flaps all have their own specifications and support different loads, thus requiring different materials. Generally, metals like steel are preferable for the ribs while composite materials are preferable for the skin and control surfaces.
The aviation industry continues to make advancements. As research in composite materials progresses, aircraft are becoming more aerodynamic and fuel efficient. With ultralight structures made from composite materials, aircraft manufacturers can design aircraft that have reduced drag and nose levels, potentially increasing fuel efficiency. Even a 1% reduction in drag on a large transport aircraft can save up to 400,000 liters of fuel and reduce emissions by around 5000 kg.
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