Aircraft come in many different shapes, sizes, functions, and applications. Because of this, varying materials are used depending on the plane’s performance needs. Early aircraft such as the Wright Flyer were built with wood and fabric. The aircraft frame was constructed with spruce and ash and much of the surface was covered with muslin, a plain cotton fabric. Modern aircraft are made from metal or composites like carbon-fiber and fiberglass, or a combination of these. Here is a rundown of some of the materials used in aircraft today.
The average commercial airliner is made from aluminum. Aluminium is strong but relatively lightweight, making it a highly popular material for use in aircraft. The widely-used Boeing 747 is an aluminum airplane for example. Years ago, aluminum made up seventy percent of the average aircraft, but that percentage has now dipped to around twenty. The majority of the non-structural material such as paneling and interiors are made from lightweight carbon fiber reinforced polymers.
Steel and titanium are two more metals used to construct aircraft. Steel, while incredibly strong, is also very heavy, making it a less desirable material. Titanium has similar strength to steel, but only about half the weight. Additionally, titanium is highly resistant to heat and corrosion. The world's fastest jet-propelled aircraft, the Lockheed Martin SR-71 Blackbird, is made from titanium.
Composite materials, a relatively new phenomenon in aviation, are quickly becoming more widely-used. A composite called graphite-epoxy is very strong and can weigh just half as much aluminum. More than half of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is made from composites and as the industry continues to grow and evolve, composites will one become more popular.
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