Fluid Lines & Fittings
Aircraft fluid lines are usually made of metal tubing or flexible hose. Metal tubing (also called rigid fluid lines) is used in stationary applications and where long, relatively straight runs are possible. They are widely used in aircraft for fuel, oil, coolant, oxygen, instrument, and hydraulic lines. Flexible hose is generally used with moving parts or where the hose is subject to considerable vibration.
Occasionally, it may be necessary to repair or replace damaged aircraft fluid lines. Very often the repair can be made simply by replacing the tubing. However, if replacements are not available, the needed parts may have to be fabricated. Replacement tubing should be of the same size and material as the original tubing. All tubing is pressure tested prior to initial installation, and is designed to withstand several times the normal operating pressure to which it will be subjected. If a tube bursts or cracks, it is generally the result of excessive vibration, improper installation, or damage caused by collision with an object. All tubing failures should be carefully studied and the cause of the failure determined.
Rigid Fluid Lines – Tubing Materials
In the early days of aviation, copper tubing was used extensively in aviation fluid applications. In modern aircraft, aluminum alloy, corrosion resistant steel or titanium tubing have generally replaced copper tubing.
Aluminum Alloy Tubing
Tubing made from 1100 H14 (1/2-hard) or 3003 H14 (1/2-hard) is used for general purpose lines of low or negligible fluid pressures, such as instrument lines and ventilating conduits. Tubing made from 2024-T3, 5052-O, and 6061-T6 aluminum alloy materials is used in general purpose systems of low and medium pressures, such as hydraulic and pneumatic 1,000 to 1,500 psi systems, and fuel and oil lines.
Corrosion resistant steel tubing, either annealed CRES 304, CRES 321 or CRES 304-1/8-hard, is used extensively in high pressure hydraulic systems (3,000 psi or more) for the operation of landing gear, flaps, brakes, and in fire zones. Its higher tensile strength permits the use of tubing with thinner walls; consequently, the final installation weight is not much greater than that of the thicker wall aluminum alloy tubing. Steel lines are used where there is a risk of foreign object damage (FOD); i.e., the landing gear and wheel well areas. Although identification markings for steel tubing differ, each usually includes the manufacturer’s name or trademark, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) number, and the physical condition of the metal.
This type of tubing and fitting is used extensively in transport category and high performance aircraft hydraulic systems for pressures above 1,500 psi. Titanium is 30 percent stronger than steel and 50 percent lighter than steel. Cryofit fittings or swaged fittings are used with titanium tubing. Do not use titanium tubing and fittings in any oxygen system assembly. Titanium and titanium alloys are oxygen reactive. If a freshly formed titanium surface is exposed in gaseous oxygen, spontaneous combustion could occur at low pressures.
Before making repairs to any aircraft tubing, it is important to make accurate identification of tubing materials. Aluminum alloy, steel, or titanium tubing can be identified readily by sight where it is used as the basic tubing material. However, it is difficult to determine whether a material is carbon steel or stainless steel, or whether it is 1100, 3003, 5052-O, 6061-T6 or 2024-T3 aluminum alloy. To positively identify the material used in the original installation, compare code markings of the replacement tubing with the original markings on the tubing being replaced.
On large aluminum alloy tubing, the alloy designation is stamped on the surface. On small aluminum tubing, the designation may be stamped on the surface; but more often it is shown by a color code, not more than 4″ in width, painted at the two ends and approximately midway between the ends of some tubing. When the band consists of two colors, one-half the width is used for each color. [Figure 7-1]
If the code markings are hard or impossible to read, it may be necessary to test samples of the material for hardness by hardness testing.
Metal tubing is sized by outside diameter (o.d.), which is measured fractionally in sixteenths of an inch. Thus, number 6 tubing is 6/16″ (or 3⁄8″) and number 8 tubing is 8/16″ (or 1⁄2″), and so forth. The tube diameter is typically printed on all rigid tubing. In addition to other classifications or means of identification, tubing is manufactured in various wall thicknesses. Thus, it is important when installing tubing to know not only the material and outside diameter, but also the thickness of the wall. The wall thickness is typically printed on the tubing in thousands of an inch. To determine the inside diameter (i.d.) of the tube, subtract twice the wall thickness from the outside diameter.
For example, a number 10 piece of tubing with a wall thickness of 0.063″ has an inside diameter of 0.625″ – 2(0.063″) = 0.499″.