Aircraft Hardware – Rivets and Fasteners (Part One)

in Aircraft Materials Processes and Hardware

Aircraft Rivets

Sheets of metal must be fastened together to form the aircraft structure, and this is usually done with solid aluminum alloy rivets. A rivet is a metal pin with a formed head on one end when the rivet is manufactured. The shank of the rivet is inserted into a drilled hole, and its shank is then upset (deformed) by a hand or pneumatic tool. The second head, formed either by hand or by pneumatic equipment, is called a “shop head.” The shop head functions in the same manner as a nut on a bolt. In addition to their use for joining aircraft skin sections, rivets are also used for joining spar sections, for holding rib sections in place, for securing fittings to various parts of the aircraft, and for fastening innumerable bracing members and other parts together. The rivet creates a bond that is at least as strong as the material being joined.


Two of the major types of rivets used in aircraft are the common solid shank type, which must be driven using a bucking bar, and the special (blind) rivets, which may be installed where it is impossible to use a bucking bar.

Aircraft rivets are not hardware store rivets. Rivets purchased at a hardware store should never be used as a substitute for aircraft quality rivets. The rivets may be made from very different materials, the strength of the rivets differs greatly, and their shear strength qualities are very different. The countersunk heads on hardware store rivets are 78°, whereas countersunk aircraft rivets have 100° angle heads for more surface contact to hold it in place.

Standards and Specifications

The FAA requires that the structural strength and integrity of type-certificated aircraft conform to all airworthiness requirements. These requirements apply to performance, structural strength, and integrity as well flight characteristics. To meet these requirements, each aircraft must meet the same standards. To accomplish standardization, all materials and hardware must be manufactured to a standard of quality. Specifications and standards for aircraft hardware are usually identified by the organization that originated them. Some of the common standardizing organizations include:

AMS Aeronautical Material Specifications

AN Air Force-Navy

AND Air Force-Navy Design

AS Aeronautical Standard

ASA American Standards Association

ASTM American Society for Testing Materials

MS Military Standard

NAF Naval Aircraft Factory

NAS National Aerospace Standard

SAE Society of Automotive Engineers

When a MS20426-AD4-6 rivet is required, the specifications have already been written for it in the Military Standard (MS) specifications. That information is available to the aircraft manufacturers and to the rivet manufacturers as well as to the mechanic. The specifications designate the material to be used as well as the head type, diameter, and length of the rivet. The use of standardized materials in the production of aircraft makes each aircraft exactly the same as the previous one and makes them less expensive to build.

Aircraft rivets are manufactured to much higher standards and specifications than rivets manufactured for general use. When aircraft manufacturers started building all-metal aircraft in the 1930s, different manufacturers had different rivet head designs. Brazier heads, modified brazier heads, button heads, mushroom heads, flatheads, and 78° countersunk heads were used. As aircraft standardized, four rivet head designs almost completely replaced all of the others. Rivets exposed to the airflow over the top of the structure are usually either universal head MS20470 or 100° countersunk head MS20426 rivets. For rivets used in internal structures, the roundhead MS20430 and the flathead MS20442 are generally used.