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Composites the new frontier of Aviation Technology

Reader comment on item: Why Did American Airlines 587 Crash?
in response to reader comment: Cover up to save the airline industry

Submitted by Stephen (Canada), Aug 27, 2006 at 13:23

For the most part up until recently Composites have played a structurally minor role in aircraft materials such as aerodynamic fairings (Covers which are screwed on to the exterior joints of major parts such as the wing to fuselage area.) and are generally made of fiberglass not very strong.

The Insatiable desire by the Aerospace Industry to save weight by any means possible which in turn saves fuel is the main driving factor towards more use of stronger composites in much more structurally significant areas of the modern jet. All aviation materials eg. Aircraft Aluminum skins, rivets, bolts are subjected to 1000's of hrs of destructive testing by engineers so all of these results can be quantified into formulas to determine a materials ultimate breaking strength for future aircraft design.

What the general public does not realize is that much Engineering data has also been collected from the past 60 or so years of Aviation disasters which has also contributed to the fairly high predictabilty of A/C materials in real world operational terms. Therefore we are very fortunate with today's materials to have benefited from the 60 yrs of data that has been collected. Therefore we can enjoy for the most part an uneventful safe flight. Many people take this data for granted. at one point in history flying was a very risky business. Now they just hop on a plane without thinking twice.

Airbus has been the first Manufacturer to use Composites for Structurally Significant aircraft parts (Meaning parts which transfer significant amounts of flight loads in high stress areas) . The entire vertical stabilizer of flight 587 which can experience high stress at certain times during flight is made of Composites. This is a revolution in Aerospace engineering terms.

However the new composite "structural" materials such as Kevlar and Carbon Fibre of which flight 587's Vertical Stabilizer or "Tail Section" is made of has gone through 1000's of hrs of similar DestruciveTesting by engineers as the A/C materials (Aluminum) of the past 60 yrs. However we will not be able to benefit from the real world data collected over the past 60 yrs or so. So we are back to square one in those terms. There will be some instances of "trial and error" with the new age A/C materials. The new data will be at the expense of many lives for the next 60 or so yrs.

So in summary there has been a cover up of sorts, an engineering cover up, a proprietary cover up by a major A/C Co. in which billions and billions of dollars are at risk. In my opinion all Airbus products should be grounded, the entire world fleet with their composite Tails until engineers find out why this material failed during flight. But instead the FAA blames the pilots as pilot error and has issued a Airworthiness Directive to all pilots flying Airbus Equipment not to use hard rudder during wake turbulence.As a result of this finding many pilots are opting to not fly Airbus but prefer to fly Boeing aircraft instead.

Thanks Steve R.


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