Aircraft hardware is the term used to describe the various types of fasteners and miscellaneous small items used in the manufacture and repair of aircraft. The importance of aircraft hardware is often overlooked because of its small size; however, the safe and efficient operation of any aircraft is greatly dependent upon the correct selection and use of aircraft hardware.
An aircraft, even though made of the best materials and strongest parts, would be of doubtful value unless those parts were firmly held together. Several methods are used to hold metal parts together; they include riveting, bolting, brazing, and welding. The process used must produce a union that will be as strong as the parts that are joined.
Most items of aircraft hardware are identified by their specification number or trade name. Threaded fasteners and rivets are usually identified by AN (Air Force-Navy), NAS (National Aircraft Standard), or MS (Military Standard) numbers. Quick-release fasteners are usually identified by factory trade names and size designations.
Various types of fastening devices allow quick dismantling or replacement of aircraft parts that must be taken apart and put back together at frequent intervals. Riveting or welding these parts each time they are serviced would soon weaken or ruin the joint. Furthermore, some joints require greater tensile strength and stiffness than rivets can provide. Bolts and screws are two types of fastening devices which give the required security of attachment and rigidity. Generally, bolts are used where great strength is required, and screws are used where strength is not the deciding factor. Bolts and screws are similar in many ways. They are both used for fastening or holding, and each has a head on one end and screw threads on the other. Regardless of these similarities, there are several distinct differences between the two types of fasteners. The threaded end of a bolt is always blunt while that of a screw may be either blunt or pointed.
The threaded end of a bolt usually has a nut screwed onto it to complete the assembly. The threaded end of a screw may fit into a female receptacle, or it may fit directly into the material being secured. A bolt has a fairly short threaded section and a comparatively long grip length or unthreaded portion; whereas a screw has a longer threaded section and may have no clearly defined grip length. A bolt assembly is generally tightened by turning the nut on the bolt; the head of the bolt may or may not be designed for turning. A screw is always tightened by turning its head. When it becomes necessary to replace aircraft fasteners, a duplicate of the original fastener should be used if at all possible. If duplicate fasteners are not available, extreme care and caution must be used in selecting substitutes.
Classification of Threads
Aircraft bolts, screws, and nuts are threaded in the NC (American National Coarse) thread series, the NF (American National Fine) thread series, the UNC (American Standard Unified Coarse) thread series, or the UNF (American Standard Unified Fine) thread series. There is one difference between the American National series and the American Standard Unified series that should be pointed out. In the 1-inch diameter size, the NF thread specifies 14 threads per inch (1-14 NF), while the UNF thread specifies 12 threads per inch (1-12 UNF). Both types of threads are designated by the number of times the incline (threads) rotates around a 1-inch length of a given diameter bolt or screw. For example, a 4-28 thread indicates that a 1⁄4‑inch (4⁄16 inch) diameter bolt has 28 threads in 1 inch of its threaded length.
Threads are also designated by Class of fit. The Class of a thread indicates the tolerance allowed in manufacturing. Class 1 is a loose fit, Class 2 is a free fit, Class 3 is a medium fit, and Class 4 is a close fit. Aircraft bolts are almost always manufactured in the Class 3, medium fit.
A Class 4 fit requires a wrench to turn the nut onto a bolt, whereas a Class 1 fit can easily be turned with the fingers. Generally, aircraft screws are manufactured with a Class 2 thread fit for ease of assembly.
Bolts and nuts are also produced with right-hand and left-hand threads. A right-hand thread tightens when turned clockwise; a left-hand thread tightens when turned counterclockwise.