Aluminum vs Carbon Fiber: Which Material Is Best for Airplane Fuselages?

Aluminum and carbon fiber are two of the most common materials used in the construction of airplane fuselages. In the past, most commercial airplanes featured an aluminum fuselage. Since the advent of the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350, however, many airplanes now feature a carbon fiber fuselage. You can still find airplanes with an aluminum fuselage. Most airplanes, in fact, use this material for their fuselage. With that said, carbon fiber fuselages are on the rise.

What’s the Difference Between Aluminum and Carbon Fiber?

Aluminum and carbon fiber are two very different materials. Aluminum is a metal with the atomic number 13. It’s the single most abundant metal on Earth. Carbon fiber, on the other hand, is a synthetic material consisting of many individual strands of carbon that are woven together. Each strand of carbon in carbon fiber measures about 5 to 10 micrometers in diameter. Of those two materials, only aluminum is considered a metal. Carbon fiber is classified as a polymer.

Benefits of an Aluminum Fuselage

Because it’s the most abundant metal on Earth, aluminum is inexpensive. The low cost of this metal makes it a popular choice for fuselages among aerospace manufacturing companies. Aerospace manufacturing companies can build and produce airplanes at a lower cost when using aluminum for the fuselage.

Aluminum is also lightweight. When designing airplanes, aerospace manufacturing companies must consider the weight. The more an airplane weighs, the greater its power requirements to generate and maintain lift during flight. As a result, aluminum is often used for fuselages. Aluminum allows for the production of lightweight airplanes.

Benefits of a Carbon Fiber Fuselage

One of the greatest benefits of carbon fiber fuselages is strength. Carbon fiber is exceptionally strong — even more so than steel and aluminum. When individual strands of carbon are woven together, they form an ultra-strong mesh-like material, which is carbon fiber. Therefore, fuselages constructed of carbon fiber are able to resist greater physical stress than those made of alternative materials.

Carbon fiber is also lightweight. In fact, it weighs about 40% less than aluminum. When combined with its exceptional strength, the lightweight properties of carbon fiber make it a popular choice for large commercial airplanes.

The downside to carbon fiber is its cost. Carbon fiber costs more than aluminum. This is due to the fact that producing carbon fiber is more laborious. It requires more resources to product than aluminum, resulting in a higher cost.