Before a part is attached to the aircraft during either manufacture or repair, it has to be shaped to fit into place. This shaping process is called forming and may be a simple process, such as making one or two holes for attaching; it may be a complex process, such as making shapes with complex curvatures. Forming, which tends to change the shape or contour of a flat sheet or extruded shape, is accomplished by either stretching or shrinking the material in a certain area to produce curves, flanges, and various irregular shapes. Since the operation involves altering the shape of the stock material, the amount of shrinking and stretching almost entirely depends on the type of material used. Fully annealed (heated and cooled) material can withstand considerably more stretching and shrinking and can be formed at a much smaller bend radius than when it is in any of the tempered conditions.

When aircraft parts are formed at the factory, they are made on large presses or by drop hammers equipped with dies of the correct shape. Factory engineers, who designate specifications for the materials to be used to ensure the finished part has the correct temper when it leaves the machines, plan every part. Factory draftsmen prepare a layout for each part. [Figure 4-117]

Figure 4-117. Aircraft formed at a factory.

Figure 4-117. Aircraft formed at a factory.

Forming processes used on the flight line and those practiced in the maintenance or repair shop cannot duplicate a manufacturer’s resources, but similar techniques of factory metal working can be applied in the handcrafting of repair parts.

Forming usually involves the use of extremely light-gauge alloys of a delicate nature that can be readily made useless by coarse and careless workmanship. A formed part may seem outwardly perfect, yet a wrong step in the forming procedure may leave the part in a strained condition. Such a defect may hasten fatigue or may cause sudden structural failure.

Of all the aircraft metals, pure aluminum is the most easily formed. In aluminum alloys, ease of forming varies with the temper condition. Since modern aircraft are constructed chiefly of aluminum and aluminum alloys, this section deals with the procedures for forming aluminum or aluminum alloy parts with a brief discussion of working with stainless steel, magnesium, and titanium.

Most parts can be formed without annealing the metal, but if extensive forming operations, such as deep draws (large folds) or complex curves, are planned, the metal should be in the dead soft or annealed condition. During the forming of some complex parts, operations may need to be stopped and the metal annealed before the process can be continued or completed. For example, alloy 2024 in the “0” condition can be formed into almost any shape by the common forming operations, but it must be heat treated afterward.