Composites are commonly used in a variety of applications around the world, but one industry in which it is particularly useful is in the aerospace industry. Before we delve into how composites are specifically used in the aerospace industry it is important to understand what exactly composite materials are.
A composite material is a material that consist of strong carry-load materials which are embedded in a somewhat weaker material. The stronger material is commonly referred to as reinforcement and the weaker material is commonly referred to as the matrix. The reinforcement provides the strength and rigidity that is needed which helps to support the structural load. The matrix or the binder helps to maintain the position and orientation of the reinforcement and is somewhat more brittle.
Some examples of composites that are commonly used in the world include reinforced concrete, plaster casts and wire reinforced tires. The term composite can also be used in modern day language to describe very strong fibrous materials which are embedded in thermosetting and thermoplastic resin matrix resins.
It is important to note that the three most common types of composites that exist are composite materials that are reinforced with fiberglass, carbon fiber and aramid fiber. It is also interesting that each of these types has subtypes which provides for a wide variety of composites that exist in the world.
Several types of composites are commonly used in the aerospace industry. For example, composites were first used for military aircraft during World War II. Now, they are now used for private jets and modern commercial aircraft in the aerospace industry. Furthermore, kevlar fibers, carbon fibers, and fiberglass fibers have been used in the production of commercial airliners, and carbon fiber composites make up a large majority of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
One of the reasons as to why composites are used in the aerospace industry is that they are extremely damage tolerant. This allows them to run into small objects while flying without being damaged extensively. Some of the properties of composite materials that are used in the aerospace industry include high strength, high stiffness, good shear properties, and low density.
The history of composites is actually quite interesting if you take a close look at it. There were three main driving forces that led to the development of composites during the 1950s and the 1960s in the United States of America. One was the design in the aerospace industry had a demand for lower weight and high rigidity. In addition, the development of solid-state theory and the flourishing U.S. Economy drove growth. Large companies invested in composite materials for the aerospace industry and they built research centers that had scores of physicists working on developing extremely strong composite materials. This eventually led to the development of modern day materials such as aramid fiber, which is now commonly used in the aerospace industry throughout the world.
Metal composites were also developed during the 1950s when we were fighting for survival in terms of defense and the space race as a country. It should be noted that the U.S. Navy had the Vanguard rocket experience and the U.S. Air Force had supersonic flight. This all required the development of extremely strong and lightweight composite materials The future for composite materials for the aerospace industry seems to be strong and will continue to show strength throughout the next century.