The Benefits of Composite Materials in Aircraft Manufacturing- A Complete Guide

Since the introduction of aviation, designers and engineers have started to focus on reducing the weight of various aircraft, such as hypersonic aircraft.

The conventionally used materials such as aluminum, steel, and titanium to build hypersonic aircraft and missiles have severe disadvantages such as more weight.

However, today, the adoption of composite materials has enabled engineers to overcome the increasing weight issues of fighter planes and missiles. Composite materials play a key role in reducing extra weight from the hypersonic aircraft and hypersonic missiles attached to them.

There are many other reasons encouraging the use of composite materials in aircraft manufacturing. To understand composite materials and their benefits better, let’s read further.

Composite Materials- A Short Introduction

Composite materials consist of more than two elements that are discreetly bonded together and form an integrated structure.

As per Federal Aviation Agency, composite materials have been used since World War II. However, with time, this material has become more advanced and popular. Today, it can be found in a variety of fighter planes, hypersonic missiles, and gliders.

There are numerous types of composite materials used today to meet the requirements and challenges in aircraft manufacturing.

The primary reason behind defense sectors using composite materials is their promising characteristics which include being less expensive, light in weight, and cheaper as compared to other related materials.

Examples of aircraft made using composite materials are AV-8B Harrier, F16 Fighting Falcon, F22 Raptor, B2 Stealth Bomber, and F14 Tomcat.

Benefits of Using Composite Materials in Aircraft Manufacturing

Earlier, the use of composite materials was only limited to automobiles and boats. However, today, 50–70% of hypersonic aircraft and missiles are built using composite materials.

Since there are many benefits of using composite materials, they are being adopted in aircraft manufacturing. Carbon fiber, fiber-reinforced matrix, and fiberglass are the commonly used composite materials in the manufacturing of different aircraft.

Following are the key benefits of composite materials in aircraft manufacturing:

  • Composite materials allow engineers to reduce the weight of hypersonic aircraft by up to 20%-50%.
  • It is simple to assemble complex composite components by utilizing rotational molding techniques and automated machinery.
  • Composite materials allow supersonic aircraft parts to have high thermal stability. This means that the composite materials control the aircraft’s components from getting expanded or contracted with changing temperatures.
  • High damage toleration enhances the chances of surviving accidents by a hypersonic aircraft.
  • Composite materials have high impact resistance. For instance, armor shields built using the composite materials reduce the accidental damage to the engine towers carrying the engine controls and fuel lines.

For the last few years, the production of hypersonic aircraft and missiles has increased massively. With the continuously increasing investments of the defense sector in supersonic missiles and military aircraft, the market demand for lightweight composite materials has also increased.

According to a report by BIS Research, the global high-speed aircraft and missile composite materials market is expected to touch $2,083.0 million by 2032 from a market value of $1,631.9 million in 2021. The market is supposed to grow with a CAGR of 2.47% during the forecast period of 2022–2032.

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Are Composite Materials Free from Challenges?

It is not possible that advanced technology or materials used in various sectors will have benefits only. There are certain challenges associated with the use of composite materials in aircraft manufacturing.

Composite materials are strong and do not break easily. Thus, it becomes difficult for the experts to tell whether the internal structure of the aircraft has any damage.

If compared to other materials such as aluminum, composite materials get dents and bend easily. So, getting information about the internal structure of the hypersonic aircraft becomes easy in such a case.

Additionally, the repairing cost of the aircraft’s components that are made up of composite materials is more expensive as compared to materials such as aluminum.

Although the use of composite materials can lead to long-term savings, they are expensive to purchase.

Final Thoughts

The demand for composite materials is constantly increasing for aircraft manufacturing and the manufacturing of supersonic missiles.

When it comes to aerospace, composite materials are advantageous, and their use is expected to double in the future. Carbon fibers are the most common composite materials used in aircraft manufacturing, and they offer engineers better options to reduce weight of the aircraft and improve fuel-saving options.

Commercial aircraft manufacturers can use composite materials for building plane wings and delivering an improved lift-to-drag balance of the plane.

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