The airframe is an important part of an airplane. Encompassing the fuselage, wings, tail assembly and undercarriage, it’s the main mechanical structure.
All airplanes have an aiframe. When designing airplanes, aerospace manufacturers must choose the right materials for the airframe. There are many different types of airplanes, and while they all have an airframe, the materials from which their airframes are made may vary. What are airframes made of exactly?
Aluminum is commonly used in the construction of airframes. Aluminum is prized for its strong yet lightweight properties. It’s not quite as strong as steel, but aluminum weighs significantly less than its steel counterpart. Aluminum is also resistant to corrosion. This unique combination of strength, corrosion resistance and a lightweight design make aluminum a popular choice of material for airframes.
The Boeing 747-400, for instance, uses a mostly aluminum airframe. It contains over 70 tons of aluminum, in fact. Other commercial airplanes use aluminum in their respective airframes as well.
Another common material from which airframes are made is titanium. Titanium is a chemical element that occurs naturally in the form of an oxide. As the ninth-most abundant element on Earth, it’s readily available and easy to source. Furthermore, titanium is strong and corrosion resistant.
Many airplanes use titanium in their airframes. They may not feature an all-titanium airframe, but they still contain some of this ultra-strong chemical element in their airframe’s design.
In recent years, carbon fiber airframes have become increasingly common. Carbon fiber isn’t a specific metal or chemical element. Rather, it’s a material consisting of carbon threads that are bundled together. Carbon fiber is about five times strong than traditional steel. It also weighs less than steel. The downside to using carbon fiber in airframes, though, is the cost. Carbon fiber costs more than many other materials, including steel, aluminum and titanium.
The Boeing 787 uses carbon fiber in its airframe. Reports show that roughly 50% of the 787’s total structure weight comes from carbon fiber. The 787 still uses some aluminum and titanium in its airframe — as well as other materials — but most of its airframe consists of carbon fiber.
Airframes are made of different materials. Some of the most common materials used in their construction include aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber. All three of these materials are strong, lightweight and resistant to corrosion.