Composites are changing the face of air travel. For the last two decades, advanced composite materials have made transportation more viable, more sustainable, and more affordable for millions of people and industries. Airplanes are one of the areas in which composites have shown the most promise for development.
Using Composites for Aircraft
Composites as components have been in play in the aviation space for decades. Composite materials such as GFRP offer airplanes superior temperature resistance and lightness, both of which are increasingly important as planes fly longer and faster. The benefits glass fiber composites and other composite materials offer air travel are myriad, ranging from improved fuel efficiency to custom molding capabilities.
By layering composites, engineers are even able to imbue a plane’s parts with unique properties like the ability to bend in one direction but not the other. Composites have made – and continue to make – air travel a safer, more attainable alternative for consumers and businesses alike.
Composites in Air Travel Today
Engineers are pushing the limits of composite use for planes. Today, composite materials can be found all over airplanes, from wings to doors to fairings to turbine engine blades. The Dreamliner 787 by Boeing currently employs the most composite materials of any aircraft at just over 50%; this saves the plane over 20% in total weight load compared to traditional materials like aluminum and steel.
It’s unlikely that planes will ever be made entirely from composites because of the inherent strength and rigidity needed for certain components such as landing gear and the hull itself. Where composites hold the most opportunity for air travel is in design.
The Future of Composites for Planes
Implementing composites in the design phase of plane-building is an intriguing proposition. University of Michigan engineers, for example, are testing the ways in which composite airplane wings could make planes more fuel efficient; can “morphing” wings actually save 10% or more in fuel during a single flight? Likewise, the implementation of more composite materials within the body of commercial jets is spurring a race to develop the longest-haul flight in the world, now estimated at around 20-hours. Planes that are lighter can fly farther and longer on less fuel.
Fiber-reinforced composite materials like fiberglass and GFRP are opening a new world of possibilities in the air. From commercial air travel to cargo jets to aerospace applications, there’s seemingly no limit to the ways in which composites will alter the design of “traditional” aircraft.
B&W Fiberglass works with designers, engineers, and manufacturers around the world on innovative composite applications for air travel. From planes to parts, our team of experts is always available to consult on the most complex materials problems.