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Composite materials used on Aircraft wings

1. Introduction
The design of an aircraft must take in consideration a multitude
of factors such as efficiency, comfort, safety and reliability.
However, the importance placed of each of these aspects entirely
depends on the type of the aircraft being designed which can
vary from fighter jets to commercial airplanes.
As a result, the design of the aircraft has to meet specific
requirements which influence the complexity of its structure and
the materials used in its construction. A wide range of
materials may be used in the design of the aircraft to make use
of properties such as strength, elasticity, specific weight and
corrosion resistance.
Mechanical properties of some common fibers used to reinforce
polymer composites:
Tensile Modulus
Tensile Strength Elongation Density
Fiber (Young's Modulus)
(MPa) (103 psi) (GPa) (106 psi) (kg/m3) (lb/in3)
E-Glass 3500 510 72.5 10.5 4.9 2630 0.095
S-Glass 4600 670 88 12.8 5.5 2490 0.09
AS-4 PAN-Based Carbon 4000 578 245 35.5 1.6 1800 0.065
IM-7 PAN-Based Carbon 4900 710 317 46 1.7 1744 0.063
P120 Pitch-Based
2250 325 827 120 0.27 2187 0.079
Alumina/Silica 1950 280 297 43 3280 0.12
Kevlar 29 2860 410 64 9.3 1440 0.052
Kevlar 49 3650 530 124 18 2.5 1440 0.052
Boron 3620 525 400 58 1 2574 0.093
 E-glass - A low alkali borosilicate glass with good electrical
and mechanical properties and good chemical resistance. The
most widely used in fibers for reinforcing plastics.
 S-Glass is a stiffer/stronger version of E-glass which is also
used in polymer matrix composites. S-Glass is generally used
for polymer matrix composites that require improved mechanical
properties compared to E-glass based composites.
 PAN-Based Carbon fibers are made of polyacrylonitrile (PAN).
Carbon fibers are high-strength and high-
stiffness materials used in advanced constructions like
military aircrafts etc.
 Alumina/Silica or trademark Saffil is produced as a fiber and
was developed for thermal insulation at higher temperatures.
 Kevlar 29 is used in industrial applications such as cables,
asbestos replacement, brake linings, and body armor.
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 Kevlar 49 is considered to have the greatest tensile strength

of all the aramids, and is used in applications such as
plastic reinforcement for boat hulls, airplanes, and bikes.

2. Why composite materials?

Composite materials are used more and more for primary

structures in commercial, industrial, aerospace, marine and
recreational structures. Composite materials consist of a
fibrous reinforcements bonded together with a matrix material.

Advanced composites do not corrode like metals – the

combination of corrosion and fatigue cracking is a significant
problem for Aluminum commercial fuselage structure.
Composites today have a wide array of benefits in the
aerospace and defense industry. Resulting fuel efficiency gained
by an aircraft is becoming increasingly important with today’s
soaring fuel prices.
Other positive attributes include excellent fatigue and
corrosion resistance and good impact resistance.
 The demands on material performance are so great and
diverse that no one material is able to satisfy them, e.g.,
lightweight yet strong and stiff structures.
 Composite material systems result in a performance
unattainable by the individual constituents
 Composite materials offer the advantage of a flexible
design that can be tailored to the design requirements.
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Fig. 2.2 Comparison of composite aileron to aluminum counterpart

3. The Wings of a Modern Aircraft

The wings of a modern aircraft can be designed as a combination
of different types of materials, depending on their specific
structural function. The structure of the wing of an aircraft is
comprised of several different elements, namely spars, skin and
ribs, as well as control surfaces, such as ailerons and flaps.
The A380 is the first aircraft ever that boasts a CFRP (Carbon
Fiber Reinforced polymer /Plastic) composite central wing box,
representing a weight saving of up to one and a half tones
compared to the most advanced aluminum alloys.
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Carbon fiber reinforced polymer

CFRP is a composite material made of a polymer matrix

reinforced with fibers. The fibers are usually glass
(in fiberglass), carbon (in carbon-fiber-reinforced
polymer), aramid, or basalt. Rarely, other fibers such as paper,
wood, or asbestos have been used. The polymer is usually
an epoxy, or polyester thermosetting plastic, though phenol
formaldehyde resins are still in use.
FRP composite materials possess superior mechanical properties
 Impact resistance
 Strength
 Stiffness
 Flexibility
 Ability to carry loads

787 Dream-liner Wing leading edge slats and trailing edge flaps
are also made of carbon fiber laminate materials. The wing of
Boeing 787 is a mono-block two-spar wing designed within the
multi rib structural layout. The top and bottom panels with I-
shaped cross-section stringers and spars are made of composite
materials by autoclave molding process.
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Wingbox root section of Boeing 787 Dreamliner

On aircraft with stresses-skin wing section, honeycomb

structures wing panels are often used. Panels formed like this
are lightweight and very strong. They have a variety of use on
the aircraft, such as floor panels, bulkheads, and control
surfaces, as well as wing skin panels. The honeycomb core is
made of an armid fiber and the outer sheets are coated phenolic
is common use.

Wing construction with sandwich panels

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An aileron of aircraft can be made of carbon epoxy fiber matrix

unidirectional laminated panels.

Comparison of composite aileron to Aluminum counterpart

Composite Spar
The continued development of composites has lead to the creation
of a material which incorporates both Aluminum and composite.
This material would be ideal for the use in aircraft wings due
to several properties in which it possesses. The main one being
that it is virtually fully resistant to metal fatigue. Metal
fatigue comes about due to the cyclic loading of material. This
will lead to a failure of the metal after a crack starts within
the component then increases in size. This is relevant in
aircraft wings as they experience cyclic loading as the lift
generated by them changes during flight, such as take off and
during patches of turbulence.

4. Manufacturing of composites

Manual Manufacturing Processes

1) Wet Lay-Up: The wet lay-up process is one of the oldest and
simplest techniques used in the manufacturing of polymer
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Use of Polymer Composites in Retrofitting and Strengthening:

The main advantages of using the wet lay-up are as follows:

 The processing cost is relatively low since no expensive
tooling assembly is required.
 The parts can be made into any shape or size by choosing
the proper mold over which the material is layered.
 This method gives the designer the flexibility to use any
fiber–resin combination and fiber orientation.
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 The start-up lead time and cost are minimal for the
manufacturer because there is no requirement for highly
skilled technicians or worker training.

The main shortcomings of using the wet lay-up are as follows:
 The method has a low production rate and the quality of the
manufactured composite is dependent on the skill of the
 It can be a labor-intensive process with the cure times
being governed by the environment.

Prepreg: A variation of the wet lay-up process is the prepreg


2) Contact Molding: Encapsulating the molding and the composite

part inside a vacuum membrane and applying on the membrane by
pulling a vacuum. This extracts the air along with excess
resin and produces better compaction of the composite part,
resulting in fewer defects and voids.
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Semi-Automated Manufacturing Processes

1) Resin Infusion under Flexible Tooling: The basic principle is

to infuse resin material into a dry fiber reinforcement placed
inside an evacuated vacuum bagged tool that consists of a
rigid male mold tool on one side and a semi-flexible female
took on the outer surface. The infusion of the resin under
partial vacuum conditions results in good saturation of the
dry fibers due to increased flow rate of the resin.
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2) Compression Molding: Compression molding is a manufacturing

process where the molding material is placed in an open,
heated mold cavity along with a thermosetting resin.

Automated Manufacturing Processes

1) Pultrusion Process: The pultrusion technique is a fully
automated closed mold continuous process in which continuous
fiber or rovings are passed through a resin bath, drawn
through a preforming die to form the composite into a strip,
and cured in a heated die.

2) Filament Winding: Filament winding is an automated process in

which continuous spools of dry fiber (tows) are pulled in a
predetermined pattern by computer-controlled winding machines.
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3) Resin Transfer Molding: In this process, a preformed dry fiber

part is placed on a tool or inside a mold cavity with rigid
surfaces on both sides of the composite part, and the whole
assembly is encapsulated in a vacuum bag. Thermosetting resin
is injected under pressure into the mold. Vacuum is applied,
which draws out the air voids and excess resin and compacts
the composite part.
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5. Laminate layup and orientations

Along with the type and orientation of the fibers used and the
relative proportions of the constituent materials (matrix and
fibers), the manufacturing process plays an equally important
role in determining the characteristics of the final composite
The strength and stiffness of a composite buildup depends on
the orientation sequence of the plies. The fibers in a
unidirectional material run in one direction and the strength
and stiffness is only in the direction of the fiber. Pre-
impregnated (prepreg) tape is an example of a unidirectional ply
orientation. The fibers in a bidirectional material run in two
directions, typically 90° apart.
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Bidirectional and unidirectional material properties

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Because composite materials don’t break easily, that makes

it hard to tell if the interior structure has been damaged at
all and this, of course, is the single most concerning
disadvantage for using the composite material.
6. Conclusion
Composites are one of the most important parts of aircraft's
production. The recent studies show that, for example, glass
fiber composites are the most popular due to their cheap price
and ease of manufacturing, and will remain as the largest
submarket – both in volume and value – of composites throughout
the forecast period.
My another point of view is focusing on the carbon fiber
composites that are expensive, but favored in demanding
applications, such as in the civil and military aviation,
either. According to further researches we can see that other
fiber composites and hybrids are forecasted to grow strongly, as
sophisticated and purpose-built composites will become necessary
for new applications.
Although fiberglass and carbon/epoxy composites are not yet as
important as wood, concrete, and steel in terms of tonnage or
total revenue, they are very important in aerospace,
transportation, and energy industries, especially for the new
airplanes that will provide big improvements in fuel use,
emissions, noise, and other environmental issues.

1. Michale. C. Niu, Composite Airframe Structures, Hong Kong
conmilit press limited, Honkong.
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2. Composite airframe structures by Michael C. Y. Niu.

3. A. Brent Strong, Fundamentals of composite manufacturing:
Materials, methods and application, Society of manufacturing
Engineers, ISBN-10 0872638545, ISBN-13 9780872638549, 2008.
4. Sarh, Branko; Advanced Manufacturing for Emerging Aircraft;
University of Sheffield, Rotherham, UK, 10 May 2006.
5. Composite Materials: Analysis and Design, Vahab Toufigh.