New materials vs. Old materils
Definetly the aerospace industry is amazed by these new materials that we call composites. Composites are lightweight, strong and the surface finish they create is perfect and of course they can substitute aluminium almost everywhere. So are composite materials the best materials for aircrafts or is there some place for old materials?
You may think that this is an easy to answer question but in reality it is not easy at all. There are two categories of airplanes, the big commercial airplanes and the small airplanes that we fligh for leuisure. So lets see the pros and cons of composite materials in both categories and then we can decide if metal lost its place by composites.
To begin with, lets take the commercial airliners category. These days there is a huge interest on a specific airplane the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Why this interest? Because most of it is made of composite materials which results in considerable weight savings on this size of aircraft. Also composites create an exterior far better equipped to resist damage than its equivalent aluminium counterparts. As we all know the pilots and the passengers are not the only people an aircraft comes in touch with. When an aircraft visits an airport lots of other people such as service truck drivers, baggage handlers etc, touch the aircraft and because usually these people are lets say not very professional in what they are doing the often cause severe damages. To repair such damages airline companies spend every year a huge amount of there valuable money meaning a deacrese on their profit something which is not good. So owning an airplane which can resist these damages, an airplane made of composite materilas is an easy solution to there problem.
Now, lets move to the small aircraft category. What most of us looking for when we want to buy a new airplane is speed and beauty. Somehow though, we all wondering which airplane shall we buy, the one that is made of composites or the other one that is made of metal. I know what you are thinking right now: “The one that is made of composites of course, since you are looking for speed and beauty”. That’s correct because we’ve all seen how beautiful and shiny airplanes that are made of composite materilas look like and we know that these airplanes attract the attention and since they are made of a lightweight material they are fast. The problem is that we have to be extra careful on ground handling. You have to pay extra attention where you step on the wing because a slightly slip could result in a hard to repair hole and that’s something you don’t want to happen. Another problem is the price. A composite airplane which is as fast as an aluminium airplane costs much more. Which is the best is not something easy to say because a metal airplane can be as fast as a composite one, it is definitely cheaper and a damage from misuse is very unlikely to happen. On the other hand the composite one has all these plus a better surface finish but when it comes to ground handling you got to be very carefull.
At this point lets try to give an answer to our original question: are composite materials better than metal? Well, on a huge airliner they definitely are. Because a composite airliner weighs less, it has a better efficiency, is strong enough to withstand any kind of abuse and overall is more friendly to the environment. For small aircraft there is not such a clear-cut answer. It depends on how much you want to spend and what you are realy after. Nevertheless composites are the way forward!