• Question: What is the best composite material to build a aircraft wing with? - this includes factors such as price and time on a manufacturing scale. Also what is the best way to make a large, endurable and fast aircraft wing? q

    Asked by scottw00d to Olivia on 16 Nov 2017.
    • Photo: Olivia Stodieck

      Olivia Stodieck answered on 16 Nov 2017:

      Wow – thanks for the question! Can I send you some research papers on the subject? Not sure if I have enough space here to give you a full answer 🙂 There are different types of composite materials (glass, carbon, ceramic – even wood!). The industry uses mainly long fibre carbon composites for wing structures, because they have the highest stiffness and strength to weight ratios. More strength and less weight means that the aircraft can carry more passengers or fly further for the same amount of fuel – and that’s one thing the airlines are really keen on! However, carbon fibre material are expensive and complicated to manufacture – so in terms of cost and time, it’s not so great. A lot of work is going on to improve this. For example, by introducing carbon materials that are really stiff and strong, but don’t need to be cured for hours in autoclaves (big ovens). The best way to make large, complex wings, that do everything that is needed (strong, long-lasting, with good aerodynamics and low structural weight) is by doing lots of design studies early on in the project. Personally, I am a big fan of mathematical design optimisation. That means, that we program computers with all the required input data and then let them give us the best possible wing design solutions. Of course, we still need really smart engineers, to program the computers, define the input data and check that the results make sense (we don’t like ‘black boxes’ in engineering – after all, we need to make sure the designs are really safe and fit to carry passengers). So highly skilled engineers are and will be required for aircraft design in the foreseeable future 🙂