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Journal of Materials Processing Technology 103 (2000) 15

Development of bre metal laminates for advanced aerospace structures


L.B. Vogelesang*, A. Vlot
Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, Delft University of Technology, Kluyverweg 1, 2629 HS Delft, Netherlands

Abstract Fibre metal laminates offer signicant improvements over current available materials for aircraft structures. While weight reduction and improved damage tolerance characteristics were the prime drivers to develop these new family of materials, it turns out that they have additional benets which become more and more important for today's designers, e.g. cost reduction and improved safety. The combination of these aspects in one material is an extraordinary achievement. It shows that GLARE is a unique material for aircraft applications. Moreover, it makes clear that, through its unique combination of properties, GLARE is a strong candidate material for fuselage skin structures of the new generation of aircraft. # 2000 Elsevier Science S.A. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Fibre metal laminates; Fatigue; Impact; Corrosion; Flame resistance

1. Introduction The in-service structural failures of modern jet transport aircraft, since their introduction in the 1950s, has focused the minds of material engineers and designers on methods for improving ight safety. The spectacular failure of the (presumed) damage tolerant Aloha Airlines Boeing 737 in 1988 reinforced the view that damage tolerance is not simply a structural design problem (Fig. 1). This ageing jet transport has own nearly 90 000 ights when many small fatigue cracks in the same lap joint rivet row joined up into a single large crack, resulting in the loss of a 46 m section of the upper fuselage. Remarkably, the aircraft was recovered with loss of only one life. Thus, damage tolerance must be achieved by a combination of proper materials selection (fatigue, corrosion and impact resistant alloys and durable bonding processes), qualied maintenance and better understanding of complex failure modes. During the last decade much attention has been paid to the damage tolerance evaluation of the aircraft fuselage structure, particularly for pressurised fuselage shell structures. Since the design of the rst jet transport aircraft, the load in the fuselage skin material has more than doubled due to the increase of the fuselage diameter and higher cabin pressures.
Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: l.b.vogelesang@lr.tudelft.nl (L.B. Vogelesang), a.vlot@lr.tudelft.nl (A. Vlot)
*

Design of a modern pressurised fuselage shell structure demands more rened techniques and improved materials [1]. 2. Fibre metal laminates For airliners, maintenance costs are a high percentage (20%) of the direct operating costs (DOC). There is a strong need for more durable and more damage tolerant structural materials to reduce the maintenance costs and the structural weight of the aircraft. A study has been performed on repairs of the fuselages of 71 Boeing 747 aircraft with an average life of 29 500 ying hours. These repairs were classied and the location in the aircraft was determined. The aim is to compare the importance of the three types of damage. Only the primary structure was considered. The distribution over the damage types was:  fatigue cracks: 396 repairs (57.6%),  corrosion: 202 repairs (29.4%),  impact damage: 90 repairs (13.0%). Competing materials like advanced aluminium alloys and bre reinforced composites do have the potential to increase the cost effectiveness of the structure. These materials still have their advantages and disadvantages, like the poor fatigue strength of the aluminium alloys and the poor impact

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L.B. Vogelesang, A. Vlot / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 103 (2000) 15

Fig. 1

and residual strength properties of carbon bre reinforced composites. About 15 years ago the idea of using the two materials to form a hybrid structural material to overcome most of the disadvantages of both materials, was born. Since the introduction of ARALL laminate materials around 1980, bre metal laminates have been widely regarded as a family of highly damage tolerant materials with a high weight saving potential. Fibre metal laminates were primarily developed for fatigue prone areas of modern civil aircraft. However, several grades of this material offer additional advantages such as damage tolerance, re resistance and impact resistance. These materials consist of alternating thin aluminium alloy layers (0.20.4 mm) and uniaxial or biaxial aramid or glass bre prepreg. Two grades of FML are commercially available: ARALL1, based on aramid bres and GLARE1, based on high strength glass bres. The ARALL Laminates were developed primarily for wing applications, while the biaxial glass product, GLARE 3, was primarily developed for fuselage applications [2]. 3. Fatigue behaviour The fatigue properties of bre metal laminates have been evaluated in numerous test programs at Delft University and throughout the aircraft industry. Fig. 2 compares the fatigue performance of two GLARE variants (cross-plied GLARE 3 and unidirectional reinforced GLARE 2), ARALL 2 and monolithic 2024-T3 under simulated fuselage lading with a central saw cut. While the monolithic material's crack growth rate increases rapidly with increasing crack length,

the laminate materials exhibit their characteristic, almost constant slow crack growth behaviour. Under realistic loading conditions, laminates exhibit crack growth rates 10100 times slower than their monolithic aluminium constituents. GLARE excels in all types of fatigue-critical aircraft loading situations [2]. The longitudinal and circumferential joints in a fuselage structure are locations where fatigue damage can occur. The residual strength of 2024 and GLARE lap joints is shown in Fig. 3 (strength related to fatigue life). The GLARE lap joint shows a superior behaviour over the aluminium lap joint; a high initial residual strength and slow strength reduction are indicated. The 2024-T3 riveted lap joint shows a fast strength decrease once fatigue cracks have initiated. Relatively short inspection intervals are required to prevent a situation in which instable crack extension can occur. Because of `human factor' crack stoppers are no longer necessary [2].

Fig. 2. The crack growth behaviour of unidirectional GLARE 2; crossplied GLARE 3, ARALL 2 and 2024-T3 for a fuselage loading.

L.B. Vogelesang, A. Vlot / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 103 (2000) 15

Fig. 3. Residual strength of 2024-T3 and GLARE 3 riveted lap joints after fatigue.

The results of the GLARE joints indicate that fracture of a riveted lap joint as a result of fatigue damage will never occur under realistic conditions. Crack stoppers are no longer necessary [2]. 4. Impact resistance Impact damage is a relevant type of damage for aircraft structures. Impact damage is caused by the following sources: runway debris, hail, maintenance damage (i.e. dropped tools), collision between service cars or cargo and the structure, bird strikes, ice from propellers striking the fuselage, engine debris and tire shrapnel from tread separation and tire rupture. Fig. 4 compares the respective impact energies that cause through-the-thickness cracking (i.e. puncture energy). For the complete range of thicknesses, GLARE shows higher resistance to cracking than non-clad 2024-T3 in a standard drop weight set-up. This impact performance of GLARE is attributed to a favourable high strain rate strengthening phenomenon which occurs in the glass bres, combined with their relatively high failure strain. Unlike composites, the damage tolerance behaviour of FML is comparable to conventional aluminium alloys. The same types of damage and plastic deformation are observed,

only at higher impact energy levels. Impact deformation is actually a signicant advantage of FML, especially when compared to composites because this visible damage signicantly increases inspectability and detectability. Therefore, the use of FML allows for repair criteria and techniques, i.e. riveted patches, similar to those used for aluminium [1]. 5. Corrosion All aluminium sheets used in the production of bre metal laminates are anodised and coated with a corrosion-inhibiting primer prior to the bonding process. Furthermore, outer aluminium surfaces can be supplied with a thin clad layer to improve surface corrosion resistance. Through-the-thickness corrosion is prevented due to the barrier role played by the bre-epoxy layers. This limits the extent of corrosion damage in severe environments. Fig. 5 compares acid bath corrosion damage in ARALL 3 and 2024-T3. While monolithic metal is fully penetrated, the laminate is merely pitted to the rst bre-epoxy interface [2]. 6. Flame resistance The ame resistance of GLARE is much better than monolithic aluminium alloys. Current aircraft fuselages with its aluminium alloy skins will melt away in 2030 s in case of an outside kerosene re. Consequently, passengers will be exposed to these ames because at least 90 s of escape time is required for the airworthiness authorities to make way for the escape. GLARE has shown capability to resist re conditions for much longer time periods. The glass bres with its high melting point are protecting the second aluminium layer from melting for a signicant increased time period and will therefore protect the passengers from this threat. Standard aluminium alloy fuselage structures have a kind of rewall liner at the interior side of the structure. However,

Fig. 4. Comparison of low velocity impact performance of 2024-T3, GLARE 3 and GLARE 4 sheet materials.

L.B. Vogelesang, A. Vlot / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 103 (2000) 15

Fig. 5. Comparison of corrosion damage in FML (left) and 2024-T3.

when the unprotected outside skin structure melts away, the interior of the aircraft which is attached to this fuselage structure will easily collapse and injure the passengers heavily if not worse. GLARE as a fuselage skin material will not only protect the structure as such (skin, stringers and frames) for a long period against an outside re, but will keep during that period the interior side intact as well. 7. Inspection and repair of laminates When fatigue cracks occur in bre metal laminates, they may initiate below the surface. For example, with riveted lap joints, the inner metal layer is the rst to crack. Subsurface cracking has been characterised using eddy current techniques. The eddy current method is capable of nding small cracks (3 mm in length) in the third aluminium layer of a 3 2 lay-up with 90% accuracy. Larger cracks are easier to locate. However, as with any non-destructive inspection, techniques, good training and the availability of reference standards are the key to high probabilities of detection. In the production environment, through-transmission ultrasonic inspection is used to assure a high quality laminate. Delaminations in the eld are usually the result of impact damage and show a visible dent. The damage-tolerant repair of bre metal laminates can be accomplished using the same procedures used for monolithic aluminium structures. Conventional riveted or bonded patch techniques perform well. A very promising application of GLARE 3 and 4 is in the damage-tolerant repair of cracked aluminium skins. The high blunt notch strength, moderate stiffness and excellent fatigue resistance of crossply GLARE laminates make them an ideal choice for the repair of incidental damage in monolithic fuselage by riveting. Fatigue lives of the surrounding skins are increased by the more favourable load transfer that occurs into the `soft patch' of GLARE, as shown in Fig. 6.

Fig. 6. Benecial effect of riveted GLARE patches on the fatigue lives of repaired monolithic aluminium skins.

An interesting application of unidirectional reinforced GLARE 1 and 2 laminates is in the adhesively bonded patching of intact cracks. Up to now, only very high modulus materials, especially boron-epoxy, have been considered for crack patching. The moderate thermal expansion properties of GLARE make it an ideal bonded patch material for the life extension of ageing transport fuselage skins suffering from multiple site fatigue damage. Interestingly, the relative low modulus GLARE 1 and 2 laminates out-perform the very stiff (and extremely expensive) boron bres in high-altitude cruise (i.e. low temperature) crack-patching applications. This is a result of the very large mismatch in thermal expansion coefcients between boron and aluminium [2]. 8. Conclusions GLARE offers the aircraft structural designer a damage tolerant, lightweight, cost-effective solution for many

L.B. Vogelesang, A. Vlot / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 103 (2000) 15

Fig. 7. The Airbus A3XX.

tension dominated applications. Originally developed for their outstanding fatigue resistance, other characteristics of bre metal laminates include high specic static properties, ease of manufacture, excellent impact resistance, burn through capabilities rivalling titanium alloys, and good corrosion resistance. Already in production on the C-17 aft cargo door and some transport aircraft ooring applications, bre metal laminates seem poised for a much larger future in the primary structure of pressurised transport fuselages, like the Airbus 340 and the challenging Airbus A3XX (Fig. 7).

References
[1] L.B. Vogelesang, J.W. Gunnink, G.H.J.J. Roebroeks, R.P.G. Muller, Toward the supportable and durable aircraft fuselage structure, in: J.M. Grandage, G.S. Jost (Eds.), Proceedings of the 18th Symposium of the International Committee on Aeronautical Fatigue, Melbourne, Australia, 35 May, 1995, pp. 257272. [2] L.B. Vogelesang, J. Schijve, Fibre metal laminates: damage tolerant aerospace materials, in: Case Studies in Manufacturing with Advanced Materials, Vol. 2, pp. 259260, 1995, Elsevier, ISBN: 0444-88934-5.