Advanced materials — particularly polymer composites and titanium — are increasingly being used instead of aluminum in military airframe structures because of their superior strength and lighter weight. As such, the authors concentrate on answering a fundamental question: Do airframe parts made of advanced materials cost more to maintain than parts made of aluminum? Because very little is known about the operating and support costs of airframe parts after an aircraft is fielded and operational, the research team produced a methodology for forecasting these costs. The authors analyzed part-level maintenance data from the F/A-18 A/B/C/D and survey-based data from airframe contractors and the B-2 Program Office. In their F/A-18 part-level analysis, the authors concluded that maintenance is a function of part type and material type, with access doors being the most expensive parts to maintain. Their findings also indicate that composite materials require more maintenance than aluminum, with composite parts containing aluminum honeycomb substructures requiring the most maintenance. Titanium parts, by comparison, need the least maintenance. Survey-based data showed similar results, with the exception of the airframe contractor’s survey data, which had mixed results for titanium parts, the maintenance of which varied with material form relative to aluminum sheet as a baseline.
The research reported here was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.
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