The Wright brothers’ first aeroplane, which flew in 1903, had a four-cylinder, 12 – horsepower auto engine modified with a 30 – pound aluminium block to reduce weight. Aluminium gradually replaced the wood, steel and other parts in the early 1900s, and the first all – aluminium plane was built in the early 1920s.
Since then, aircraft of all kinds and sizes have relied on aluminium to achieve take off.
Aluminium’s combination of lightness, strength and workability makes it the ideal material for mass-produced commercial aircraft. Strong aluminium alloys take the extraordinary pressures and stresses involved in high altitude flying; wafer-thin aluminium panels keep the cold out and the air in.
Many internal fittings like the seating on planes are made from aluminium to save weight and therefore fuel, reduce emissions and increase the aircraft’s payload.
Today, there are over 27,000 commercial aircraft flying in the world, and many thousands of light aircraft and helicopters. Demand for passenger aircraft alone is set to double from 15,000 today to more than 31,500 by 2030.
Aluminium is the primary aircraft material, comprising about 80% of an aircraft’s unladen weight. Because the metal resists corrosion, some airlines don’t paint their planes, saving several hundred of kilograms in weight.
Aircraft manufacturers use high-strength alloys (principally alloy 7075) to strengthen aluminium aircraft structures. Alloy 7075 has zinc and copper added for ultimate strength, but because of the copper it is very difficult to weld. It anodizes beautifully. 7075 has the best machinability and results in the finest finish.