The Top Lightweight Metals for Aerospace

Posted by Don Ascione on October 14, 2013

All metals designed for the aerospace industry must not only adhere to the highest standards of quality, but also have the right chemical and physical properties to withstand a rigorous environment. These aerospace materials should essentially be lightweight, strong and resistant to corrosion. The metals that best display these qualities, making them the top choice for aerospace use, are titanium, aluminum, stainless steel, and nickel.

Fotosearch k4583889Titanium is a premium material that is especially well-suited for aerospace applications. It is known for its high strength-to-weight ratio and is also considered a refractory metal, meaning it is extremely resistant to heat and wear. Titanium does not corrode in sea water or chlorine, and it is one of a small group of metals that is resistant to aqua regia, a highly corrosive mixture of acids that dissolves metals such as gold, platinum and tin. Compared to some other aerospace metals such as aluminum and nickel, Titanium has a relatively high cost. Because of its excellent properties, however, it is used in a number of structural airframe applications including wing structures, landing gear components, critical fasteners, springs, and hydraulic tubing.

Aluminum is another metal ideal for aerospace applications. It is lighter than titanium, yet less than half as strong. To strengthen aluminum for use in the industry, it is often combined with other metals such as manganese and copper. Aluminum alloys perform well in space equipment units because the strength and flexibility of the metal increase parallel to decreasing temperature, even in cryogenic temperatures. The alloys also have high values of strength and rigidity that are optimal for rocket parts, including the tank, inter-tank and casing.

Like aluminum alloys, stainless steel is a combination of steel and another metal that improves certain properties of the metal, such as corrosion resistance and strength. Stainless steel comes in different grades and surface finishes, depending on the environment for which it was made. This metal alloy has a long history of use in the aerospace industry. The makers of the Budd BB-1 Pioneer, a U.S.-made flying boat constructed in the 1930s, created its framework entirely out of stainless steel. Today, modern day space shuttles rely on the durability and strength of stainless steel.

Nickel is another aerospace metal that is often used in conjunction with other metals to create an alloy. Pure nickel is slow to react to oxygen and is thus considered corrosion resistant. It can be combined with steel to create stainless steel, or a combination of other metals to create the base for a superalloy such as Inconel. A superalloy is extremely strong, resistant to deformation and does not corrode easily. Not surprisingly, about 75% of superalloys are used in the aerospace industry for turbine blades, heat exchangers, and chemical reaction vessels.

The experts at Continental Steel specialize in the preferred metals of the aerospace industry, including titanium, aluminum, stainless steel and nickel. We strive to meet and exceed industry-accepted standards of quality for all aerospace metals, and are happy to work with you to meet your particular expectations. 

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Topics: Space Exploration, Alloy Steel Bars, Aerospace Applications

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