Did you know that plastic can be used to create the exterior hull of airplanes and many other parts of modern aircraft? While many airplanes still use metal parts and pieces, the technology of plastics is rapidly increasing, making it possible to replace much of the metal used in airplanes with cheaper and lighter materials, including plastic. The use of plastic in modern airplanes is quite fascinating, and there are many applications for plastic in modern airplane design.
Ordinary plastics are not strong or durable enough for use in aircraft. Most plastics would melt in extreme heat, break under the pressure, or simply collapse while in the air. However, scientists and researchers have come up with new strengthening methods that make plastic suitable for use in a wide range of aviation applications. Over the years, scientists have created a new type of plastic, called carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP), that is much more durable than traditional plastics.
CFRP, the super plastic
CFRP plastic is a type of plastic reinforced with carbon fibers. Usually, the main plastic material inside CFRP plastic is epoxy resin. Aluminum, glass, and carbon fibers are used to strengthen the epoxy. The plastic is known for its excellent strength-to-weight ratio and strong rigidity. This makes it suitable for a wide range of applications. The plastic is used in other industries aside from the aviation industry, including automobiles, Formula One racecars, golf clubs, bicycles, and sailboats.
A few airline companies have embraced the use of CFRP more than others. The Airbus A380 uses about 22 percent CFRPs in the construction of the airplane. The Airbus A400M military transport aircraft uses a CFRP wingbox, which carries the load weight of the wing. This shows that the plastic is strong and durable enough to hold up the more substantial weight of metal wings. The Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 plan to use CFRPs in over 50 percent of the structural weight of the new aircraft. This means that the wing leading edges and stabilizers will be the only visible metal parts on the entire aircraft.
Micro Air Vehicules
In addition to these new uses, the plastic is also used in Micro Air Vehicles. Micro air vehicles are widely used by the military to record video in locations around the world without the use of human pilots. The small vehicles are capable of entering many locations where human pilots could never go. The stiffness of the plastic helps reduce the amount of collusions that occur between the blades in high wind. Using plastic rather than metal also helps reduce the weight of the unmanned craft, improving the fuel economy of the machine.
It is easy to see how plastic is changing the face of the aerospace industry. As technology continues to increase, it is likely that we will see more plastic-based aerospace projects. Who knows, one day there may be a spaceship traveling to a new planet that is manufactured completely from modified plastics capable of handling the pressure and temperatures of space travel.
This is a guest post by Kate Simmons, fresh graduate and occasional blogger on tech-related topics. She currently works for psiurethanes.com.