Types, Characteristics, and Uses of Alloyed Steels

in Aircraft Materials Processes and Hardware

Steel containing carbon in percentages ranging from 0.10 to 0.30 percent is classed as low carbon steel. The equivalent SAE numbers range from 1010 to 1030. Steels of this grade are used for making such items as safety wire, certain nuts, cable bushings, or threaded rod ends. This steel in sheet form is used for secondary structural parts and clamps, and in tubular form for moderately stressed structural parts.

Steel containing carbon in percentages ranging from 0.30 to 0.50 percent is classed as medium carbon steel. This steel is especially adaptable for machining or forging, and where surface hardness is desirable. Certain rod ends and light forgings are made from SAE 1035 steel.

Steel containing carbon in percentages ranging from 0.50 to 1.05 percent is classed as high carbon steel. The addition of other elements in varying quantities adds to the hardness of this steel. In the fully heat-treated condition it is very hard, will withstand high shear and wear, and will have little deformation. It has limited use in aircraft. SAE 1095 in sheet form is used for making flat springs and in wire form for making coil springs.

The various nickel steels are produced by combining nickel with carbon steel. Steels containing from 3 to 3.75 percent nickel are commonly used. Nickel increases the hardness, tensile strength, and elastic limit of steel without appreciably decreasing the ductility. It also intensifies the hardening effect of heat treatment. SAE 2330 steel is used extensively for aircraft parts, such as bolts, terminals, keys, clevises, and pins.

Chromium steel is high in hardness, strength, and corrosion resistant properties, and is particularly adaptable for heat-treated forgings which require greater toughness and strength than may be obtained in plain carbon steel. It can be used for such articles as the balls and rollers of antifriction bearings.

Chrome-nickel or stainless steels are the corrosion resistant metals. The anticorrosive degree of this steel is determined by the surface condition of the metal as well as by the composition, temperature, and concentration
of the corrosive agent. The principal alloy of stainless steel is chromium. The corrosion resistant steel most often used in aircraft construction is known as 18-8 steel because of its content of 18 percent chromium and 8 percent nickel. One of the distinctive features of 18-8 steel is that its strength may be increased by cold working.

Stainless steel may be rolled, drawn, bent, or formed to any shape. Because these steels expand about 50 percent more than mild steel and conduct heat only about 40 percent as rapidly, they are more difficult to weld. Stainless steel can be used for almost any part of an aircraft. Some of its common applications are in the fabrication of exhaust collectors, stacks and manifolds, structural and machined parts, springs, castings, tie rods, and control cables.

The chrome-vanadium steels are made of approximately 18 percent vanadium and about 1 percent chromium. When heat treated, they have strength, toughness, and resistance to wear and fatigue. A special grade of this steel in sheet form can be cold formed into intricate shapes. It can be folded and flattened without signs of breaking or failure. SAE 6150 is used for making springs; chrome-vanadium with high carbon content, SAE 6195, is used for ball and roller bearings.

Molybdenum in small percentages is used in combination with chromium to form chrome-molybdenum steel, which has various uses in aircraft. Molybdenum is a strong alloying element. It raises the ultimate strength of steel without affecting ductility or workability. Molybdenum steels are tough and wear resistant, and they harden throughout when heat treated. They are especially adaptable for welding and, for this reason, are used principally for welded structural parts and assemblies. This type steel has practically replaced carbon steel in the fabrication of fuselage tubing, engine mounts, landing gears, and other structural parts. For example, a heat-treated SAE X4130 tube is approximately four times as strong as an SAE 1025 tube of the same weight and size.

A series of chrome-molybdenum steel most used in aircraft construction is that series containing 0.25 to 0.55 percent carbon, 0.15 to 0.25 percent molybdenum, and 0.50 to 1.10 percent chromium. These steels, when suitably heat treated, are deep hardening, easily machined, readily welded by either gas or electric methods, and are especially adapted to high temperature service.

Inconel is a nickel-chromium-iron alloy closely resembling stainless steel (corrosion resistant steel, CRES) in appearance. Aircraft exhaust systems use both alloys interchangeably. Because the two alloys look very much alike, a distinguishing test is often necessary. One method of identification is to use an electrochemical technique, as described in the following paragraph, to identify the nickel (Ni) content of the alloy. Inconel has a nickel content greater than 50 percent, and the electrochemical test detects nickel.

The tensile strength of Inconel is 100,000 psi annealed, and 125,000 psi when hard rolled. It is highly resistant to salt water and is able to withstand temperatures as high as 1,600 °F. Inconel welds readily and has working qualities quite similar to those of corrosion resistant steels.

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