Basic Principles of Sheet Metal Repair (Part Two)

in Aircraft Metal Structural Repair

Inspection of Damage

When visually inspecting damage, remember that there may be other kinds of damage than that caused by impact from foreign objects or collision. A rough landing may overload one of the landing gear, causing it to become sprung; this would be classified as load damage. During inspection and sizing up of the repair job, consider how far the damage caused by the sprung shock strut extends to supporting structural members.


A shock occurring at one end of a member is transmitted throughout its length; therefore, closely inspect all rivets, bolts, and attaching structures along the complete member for any evidence of damage. Make a close examination for rivets that have partially failed and for holes that have been elongated.

Whether specific damage is suspected or not, an aircraft structure must occasionally be inspected for structural integrity. The following paragraphs provide general guidelines for this inspection.

When inspecting the structure of an aircraft, it is very important to watch for evidence of corrosion on the inside. This is most likely to occur in pockets and corners where moisture and salt spray may accumulate; therefore, drain holes must always be kept clean.

While an injury to the skin covering caused by impact with an object is plainly evident, a defect, such as distortion or failure of the substructure, may not be apparent until some evidence develops on the surface, such as canted, buckled or wrinkled covering, and loose rivets or working rivets. A working rivet is one that has movement under structural stress, but has not loosened to the extent that movement can be observed. This situation can sometimes be noted by a dark, greasy residue or deterioration of paint and primers around rivet heads. External indications of internal injury must be watched for and correctly interpreted. When found, an investigation of the substructure in the vicinity should be made and corrective action taken.

Warped wings are usually indicated by the presence of parallel skin wrinkles running diagonally across the wings and extending over a major area. This condition may develop from unusually violent maneuvers, extremely rough air, or extra hard landings. While there may be no actual rupture of any part of the structure, it may be distorted and weakened. Similar failures may also occur in fuselages. Small cracks in the skin covering may be caused by vibration and they are frequently found leading away from rivets.

Aluminum alloy surfaces having chipped protective coating, scratches, or worn spots that expose the surface of the metal should be recoated at once, as corrosion may develop rapidly. The same principle is applied to aluminum clad (Alclad™) surfaces. Scratches, which penetrate the pure aluminum surface layer, permit corrosion to take place in the alloy beneath.

A simple visual inspection cannot accurately determine if suspected cracks in major structural members actually exist or the full extent of the visible cracks. Eddy current and ultrasonic inspection techniques are used to find hidden damage.

Types of Damage and Defects

Types of damage and defects that may be observed on aircraft parts are defined as follows:

  • Brinelling—occurrence of shallow, spherical depressions in a surface, usually produced by a part having a small radius in contact with the surface under high load.
  • Burnishing—polishing of one surface by sliding contact with a smooth, harder surface. Usually there is no displacement or removal of metal.
  • Burr—a small, thin section of metal extending beyond a regular surface, usually located at a corner or on the edge of a hole.
  • Corrosion—loss of metal from the surface by chemical or electrochemical action. The corrosion products generally are easily removed by mechanical means. Iron rust is an example of corrosion.
  • Crack—a physical separation of two adjacent portions of metal, evidenced by a fine or thin line across the surface caused by excessive stress at that point. It may extend inward from the surface from a few thousandths of an inch to completely through the section thickness.
  • Cut—loss of metal, usually to an appreciable depth over a relatively long and narrow area, by mechanical means, as would occur with the use of a saw blade, chisel, or sharp-edged stone striking a glancing blow.
  • Dent—indentation in a metal surface produced by an object striking with force. The surface surrounding the indentation is usually slightly upset.
  • Erosion—loss of metal from the surface by mechanical action of foreign objects, such as grit or fine sand. The eroded area is rough and may be lined in the direction in which the foreign material moved relative to the surface.
  • Chattering—breakdown or deterioration of metal surface by vibratory or chattering action. Although chattering may give the general appearance of metal loss or surface cracking, usually, neither has occurred.
  • Galling—breakdown (or build-up) of metal surfaces due to excessive friction between two parts having relative motion. Particles of the softer metal are torn loose and welded to the harder metal.
  • Gouge—groove in, or breakdown of, a metal surface from contact with foreign material under heavy pressure. Usually it indicates metal loss but may be largely the displacement of material.
  • Inclusion—presence of foreign or extraneous material wholly within a portion of metal. Such material is introduced during the manufacture of rod, bar or tubing by rolling or forging.
  • Nick—local break or notch on an edge. Usually it involves the displacement of metal rather than loss.
  • Pitting—sharp, localized breakdown (small, deep cavity) of metal surface, usually with defined edges.
  • Scratch—slight tear or break in metal surface from light, momentary contact by foreign material.
  • Score—deeper (than scratch) tear or break in metal surface from contact under pressure. May show discoloration from temperature produced by friction.
  • Stain—a change in color, locally causing a noticeably different appearance from the surrounding area.
  • Upsetting—a displacement of material beyond the normal contour or surface (a local bulge or bump). Usually it indicates no metal loss.

Classification of Damage

Damages may be grouped into four general classes. In many cases, the availabilities of repair materials and time are the most important factors in determining if a part should be repaired or replaced.

Negligible Damage

Negligible damage consists of visually apparent, surface damage that do not affect the structural integrity of the component involved. Negligible damage may be left as is or may be corrected by a simple procedure without restricting flight. In both cases, some corrective action must be taken to keep the damage from spreading. Negligible or minor damage areas must be inspected frequently to ensure the damage does not spread. Permissible limits for negligible damage vary for different components of different aircraft and should be carefully researched on an individual basis. Failure to ensure that damages within the specified limit of negligible damage may result in insufficient structural strength of the affected support member for critical flight conditions.

Small dents, scratches, cracks, and holes that can be repaired by smoothing, sanding, stop drilling, or hammering out, or otherwise repaired without the use of additional materials, fall in this classification. [Figure 4-171]

Figure 4-171. Repair of cracks by stop-drilling.

Figure 4-171. Repair of cracks by stop-drilling.

Damage Repairable by Patching

Damage repairable by patching is any damage exceeding negligible damage limits that can be repaired by installing splice members to bridge the damaged portion of a structural part. The splice members are designed to span the damaged areas and to overlap the existing undamaged surrounding structure. The splice or patch material used in internal riveted and bolted repairs is normally the same type of material as the damaged part, but one gauge heavier. In a patch repair, filler plates of the same gauge and type of material as that in the damaged component may be used for bearing purposes or to return the damaged part to its original contour. Structural fasteners are applied to members and the surrounding structure to restore the original load-carrying characteristics of the damaged area. The use of patching depends on the extent of the damage and the accessibility of the component to be repaired.

Damage Repairable by Insertion

Damage must be repaired by insertion when the area is too large to be patched or the structure is arranged such that repair members would interfere with structural alignment (e.g., in a hinge or bulkhead). In this type of repair, the damaged portion is removed from the structure and replaced by a member identical in material and shape. Splice connections at each end of the insertion member provide for load transfer to the original structure.

Damage Necessitating Replacement of Parts

Components must be replaced when their location or extent of damage makes repair impractical, when replacement is more economical than repair, or when the damaged part is relatively easy to replace. For example, replacing damaged castings, forgings, hinges, and small structural members, when available, is more practical than repairing them. Some highly stressed members must be replaced because repair would not restore an adequate margin of safety.