Aluminum Alloys in the Aerospace Industry

The aircraft and aerospace industries have long relied upon aluminum alloys. The first aircraft could never have taken flight without the aluminum alloy utilized in its engine. The Sputnik satellite was able to survive its journey through our fiery outer atmosphere and into space because the body was constructed of aluminum. Even today, NASA is using an aluminum-lithium hybrid in the cutting-edge Orion spacecraft.

Whether engineering a commercial airplane or constructing a sophisticated space-bound shuttle, aluminum alloys serve as crucial materials. Most commonly utilized in fuselage, wing, and supporting-structure construction, aluminum alloys offer a range of benefits for both aircraft and space flight engineering.

Aluminum alloys for aerospace applications are employed to deal with the sub-zero temperature conditions encountered in the freezing vacuum of space. Aluminum alloys used in aircraft construction, on the other hand, offer durability and resistance to various types of corrosion. The high stability of these alloys makes them ideal for use in mechanical components, which also benefit from aluminum’s high electrical conductivity.

Types of Aluminum Alloys

Various types of aluminum alloys (AA) are available, each offering unique characteristics and compositions to meet specific application needs.

  • Primarily composed of copper, AA 2024 is often used to cope with high strength-to-weight ratios. AA 2024 is most commonly used in the construction of wings and fuselages due to the high tension requirements of these components.
  • AA 2014 is the second-most popular alloy in aerospace engineering. Strong and durable, this alloy’s only flaw is its substandard resistance to corrosive elements. Because of this, AA 2014 is often used in the internal portions of aircraft rather than the external structure.
  • AA 5052 is the strongest alloy in the non-heat-treatable category. This alloy offers good flexibility, and can be formed into a range of configurations. AA 5052 also offers the highest resistance to saltwater corrosion when utilized in marine applications.
  • AA 6061 is one of the most commonly used alloys, particularly by amateur and hobbyist aircraft builders. It is often utilized in the aerospace industry for wings and fuselages.
  • Primarily composed of zinc, AA 7075 has been employed in various aircraft components since the Second World War, and remains a popular production alloy today. Aluminum alloy 7075 offers steel-like strength and is easily machined.
  • One of the most sought-after alloys in the aerospace industry, AA 7050 has a higher capacity for corrosion resistance than AA 7075, and is much more durable.
  • The strongest alloy utilized today, AA 7068 combines high strength and low mass, making this alloy ideal for military applications requiring materials that can withstand harsh conditions.
  • Allowing for highly effective heat transfer, AA 1100AA 1145, and AA 3003, among others, are all commonly employed in the manufacture of fin stock.

Looking Ahead

Serving as the foundation of the aircraft and aerospace industries, aluminum alloys remain integral to the future of both. Companies looking to stay abreast of the latest trends and innovations in aerospace would be well advised to keep track of advancements in aluminum alloys.