Aluminium has long remained a superior material for a myriad of industrial purposes. However, it’s been commonly used to produce aeroplanes for over 100 years, dating all the way back to the Wright Brothers in 1903.
Today, aluminium still accounts for about 80% of a modern airframe’s weight, with this highly adaptable material used within the fuselage, wings and supporting structure. But what makes aluminium so suited to the aircraft and aerospace industries
Here, we take a look at why aluminium continues to provide outstanding performance for cutting-edge aeroplanes.
As you might expect, aeroplanes need to be built from light materials to ensure they get off the ground. This is where aluminium stands out most against other types of metal, as it’s remarkably lightweight while having plenty of structural integrity. This ensures aircraft can enjoy outstanding fuel economy while transporting heavy goods. Although early planes were made from wood, technological improvements saw lightweight aluminium rise to prominence during World War I.
Strength and durability
For an aircraft to be successful, it has to strike the perfect balance between weight, strength and cost. While metal materials such as steel and iron might perform better than aluminium in a pure strength test, they weigh substantially more, making them unsuitable for takeoff and flight. With high-altitude flight putting a variety of pressures on the aircraft, working with a material like aluminium that easily withstands these stresses is essential.
Resistant to rust
Whether they are sitting on the ground or flying across the world, aeroplanes are battered by heavy rain, snow and sleet. But due to their construction from aluminium, planes don’t suffer from the same impact as rust like vehicles and machinery made from steel and iron. While aluminium does corrode, the layer of aluminium oxide that forms is protective for the surface rather than weakening like other metals.
Aluminium is one of the world’s most common metals, with countries such as Australia and China having a wealth of resources to mine. This widespread availability and reduced transport costs due to its lightweight nature makes aluminium a highly affordable metal. As the airline industry balances safety and performance against cost, aluminium is the ideal choice for producing modern aircraft.
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