Nonmetallic Aircraft Materials – Part Three (Fiber Reinforced Materials, Laminated Structures, Reinforced Plastic)

in Aircraft Materials Processes and Hardware

Composite Materials

Fiber Reinforced Materials

The purpose of reinforcement in reinforced plastics is to provide most of the strength. The three main forms of fiber reinforcements are particles, whiskers, and fibers.

A particle is a square piece of material. Glass bubbles (Q-cell) are hollow glass spheres, and since their dimensions are equal on all axes, they are called a particle.

A whisker is a piece of material that is longer than it is wide. Whiskers are usually single crystals. They are very strong and used to reinforce ceramics and metals.

Fibers are single filaments that are much longer than they are wide. Fibers can be made of almost any material, and are not crystalline like whiskers. Fibers are the base for most composites. Fibers are smaller than the finest human hair and are normally woven into cloth-like materials.

Laminated Structures

Composites can be made with or without an inner core of material. Laminated structure with a core center is called a sandwich structure. Laminate construction is strong and stiff, but heavy. The sandwich laminate is equal in strength, and its weight is much less; less weight is very important to aerospace products.

The core of a laminate can be made from nearly anything. The decision is normally based on use, strength, and fabricating methods to be used.

Various types of cores for laminated structures include rigid foam, wood, metal, or the aerospace preference of honeycomb made from paper, Nomex, carbon, fiberglass or metal. Figure 5-14 shows a typical sandwich structure. It is very important to follow proper techniques to construct or repair laminated structures to ensure the strength is not compromised. A sandwich assembly is made by taking a high-density laminate or solid face and backplate and sandwiching a core in the middle. The selection of materials for the face and backplate are decided by the design engineer, depending on the intended application of the part. It is important to follow manufacturers’ maintenance manual specific instructions regarding testing and repair procedures as they apply to a particular aircraft.

Figure 5-14. Sandwich structure.

Figure 5-14. Sandwich structure.

Reinforced Plastic

Reinforced plastic is a thermosetting material used in the manufacture of radomes, antenna covers, and wingtips, and as insulation for various pieces of electrical equipment and fuel cells. It has excellent dielectric characteristics which make it ideal for radomes; however, its high strength-to-weight ratio, resistance to mildew, rust, and rot, and ease of fabrication make it equally suited for other parts of the aircraft.

Reinforced plastic components of aircraft are formed of either solid laminates or sandwich-type laminates. Resins used to impregnate glass cloths are of the contact pressure type (requiring little or no pressure during cure). These resins are supplied as a liquid which can vary in viscosity from a waterlike consistency to a thick syrup. Cure or polymerization is effected by the use of a catalyst, usually benzoyl peroxide.

Solid laminates are constructed of three or more layers of resin impregnated cloths “wet laminated” together to form a solid sheet facing or molded shape.

Sandwich-type laminates are constructed of two or more solid sheet facings or a molded shape enclosing a fiberglass honeycomb or foam-type core. Honeycomb cores are made of glass cloths impregnated with a polyester or a combination of nylon and phenolic resins. The specific density and cell size of honeycomb cores varies over a considerable latitude. Honeycomb cores are normally fabricated in blocks that are later cut to the desired thickness on a bandsaw.

Foam-type cores are formulated from combinations of alkyd resins and metatoluene di-isocyanate. Sandwich-type fiberglass components filled with foam-type cores are manufactured to exceedingly close tolerances on overall thickness of the molded facing and core material. To achieve this accuracy, the resin is poured into a close tolerance, molded shape. The resin formulation immediately foams up to fill the void in the molded shape and forms a bond between the facing and the core.