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July 2006 edition

Assessing the effects that ageing can have on composite aircraft structures

By Dr. John Tomblin and Lamia Salah

As more commercial and military airplanes are flying beyond their original design life, it has become necessary to answer questions about their continued airworthiness and structural integrity. Most ageing aircraft studies focus on metallic structures, but with the increasing use of composites in primary aircraft structures, it is crucial to address ageing concerns for composite components.

The primary programme objective is to evaluate the ageing effects on composite aircraft structures. It involves the investigation of two aircraft structures, a decommissioned Boeing 737 stabiliser that had a commercial service history of 18 years and a Beechcraft Starship with 12 years of service. The proposed research is divided into small sub-tasks to understand the ageing mechanisms of the structures which include the following:

• Conduct non-destructive inspection to identify defects induced during manufacture or service:

• Investigate the structures for cracks, delaminations, damages, repair and if applicable bond integrity:

• Identify possible changes in mechanical properties and resin chemistry:

• Identify material degradation due to heat, humidity, ultraviolet (UV) radiation, oxidation, etc.

• Evaluate bearing conditions around holes and fasteners

• Investigate possible bearing failures or delaminations around the holes

• Evaluate effectiveness of repairs


These aircraft are examples of two common structural arrangements for composite primary structure.  Th....

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