Nonmetallic Aircraft Materials – Part Four (Rubber)

in Aircraft Materials Processes and Hardware

Composite Materials


Rubber is used to prevent the entrance of dirt, water, or air, and to prevent the loss of fluids, gases, or air. It is also used to absorb vibration, reduce noise, and cushion impact loads.

The term “rubber” is as all inclusive as the term “metal.” It is used to include not only natural rubber, but all synthetic and silicone rubbers.

Natural Rubber

Natural rubber has better processing and physical properties than synthetic or silicone rubber. These properties include: flexibility, elasticity, tensile strength, tear strength, and low heat buildup due to flexing (hysteresis). Natural rubber is a general purpose product; however, its suitability for aircraft use is somewhat limited because of its inferior resistance to most influences that cause deterioration. Although it provides an excellent seal for many applications, it swells and often softens in all aircraft fuels and in many solvents (naphthas, and so forth). Natural rubber deteriorates more rapidly than synthetic rubber. It is used as a sealing material for water/methanol systems.

Synthetic Rubber

Synthetic rubber is available in several types, each of which is compounded of different materials to give the desired properties. The most widely used are the butyls, Bunas, and neoprene.

Butyl is a hydrocarbon rubber with superior resistance to gas permeation. It is also resistant to deterioration; however, its comparative physical properties are significantly less than those of natural rubber. Butyl will resist oxygen, vegetable oils, animal fats, alkalies, ozone, and weathering.

Like natural rubber, butyl will swell in petroleum or coal tar solvents. It has a low water absorption rate and good resistance to heat and low temperature. Depending on the grade, it is suitable for use in temperatures ranging from −65 °F to 300 °F. Butyl is used with phosphate ester hydraulic fluids (Skydrol), silicone fluids, gases, ketones, and acetones.

Buna-S rubber resembles natural rubber both in processing and performance characteristics. Buna-S is as water resistant as natural rubber, but has somewhat better aging characteristics. It has good resistance to heat, but only in the absence of severe flexing. Generally, Buna-S has poor resistance to gasoline, oil, concentrated acids, and solvents. Buna-S is normally used for tires and tubes as a substitute for natural rubber.

Buna-N is outstanding in its resistance to hydrocarbons and other solvents; however, it has poor resilience in solvents at low temperature. Buna-N compounds have good resistance to temperatures up to 300 °F, and may be procured for low temperature applications down to −75 °F. Buna-N has fair tear, sunlight, and ozone resistance. It has good abrasion resistance and good breakaway properties when used in contact with metal. When used as a seal on a hydraulic piston, it will not stick to the cylinder wall. Buna-N is used for oil and gasoline hose, tank linings, gaskets, and seals.

Neoprene can take more punishment than natural rubber and has better low temperature characteristics. It possesses exceptional resistance to ozone, sunlight, heat, and aging. Neoprene looks and feels like rubber. Neoprene, however, is less like rubber in some of its characteristics than butyl or Buna. The physical characteristics of neoprene, such as tensile strength and elongation, are not equal to natural rubber but do have a definite similarity. Its tear resistance as well as its abrasion resistance is slightly less than that of natural rubber. Although its distortion recovery is complete, it is not as rapid as natural rubber.

Neoprene has superior resistance to oil. Although it is good material for use in nonaromatic gasoline systems, it has poor resistance to aromatic gasolines. Neoprene is used primarily for weather seals, window channels, bumper pads, oil resistant hose, and carburetor diaphragms. It is also recommended for use with Freons™ and silicate ester lubricants.

Thiokol, known also as polysulfide rubber, has the highest resistance to deterioration but ranks the lowest in physical properties. Thiokol, in general, is not seriously affected by petroleum, hydrocarbons, esters, alcohols, gasoline, or water. Thiokols are ranked low in such physical properties as compression set, tensile strength, elasticity, and tear abrasion resistance. Thiokol is used for oil hose, tank linings for aromatic aviation gasolines, gaskets, and seals.

Silicone rubbers are a group of plastic rubber materials made from silicon, oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. The silicons have excellent heat stability and very low temperature flexibility. They are suitable for gaskets, seals, or other applications where elevated temperatures up to 600 °F are prevalent. Silicone rubbers are also resistant to temperatures down to −150 °F. Throughout this temperature range, silicone rubber remains extremely flexible and useful with no hardness or gumminess. Although this material has good resistance to oils, it reacts unfavorably to both aromatic and nonaromatic gasolines.

Silastic, one of the best known silicones, is used to insulate electrical and electronic equipment. Because of its dielectric properties over a wide range of temperatures, it remains flexible and free from crazing and cracking. Silastic is also used for gaskets and seals in certain oil systems.

Shock Absorber Cord

Shock absorber cord is made from natural rubber strands encased in a braided cover of woven cotton cords treated to resist oxidation and wear. Great tension and elongation are obtained by weaving the jacket upon the bundle of rubber strands while they are stretched about three times their original length.

There are two types of elastic shock absorbing cord. Type I is a straight cord, and type II is a continuous ring, known as a “bungee.” The advantages of the type II cord are that it is easily and quickly replaced and does not need to be secured by stretching and whipping. Shock cord is available in standard diameters from 1⁄4 inch to 13⁄16 inch.

Three colored threads are braided into the outer cover for the entire length of the cord. Two of these threads are of the same color and represent the year of manufacture; the third thread, a different color, represents the quarter of the year in which the cord was made. The code covers a 5-year period and then repeats itself. This makes it easy to figure forward or backward from the years shown in Figure 5-15.

Figure 5-15. Shock absorber cord color coding.

Figure 5-15. Shock absorber cord color coding.