Airframe Structural Materials for Drone Applications

by Donald Frederick Adams

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A comparison of performance, weight, and cost characteristics of a wide range of structural materials for aircraft. The aircraft speeds considered range from very low subsonic to high supersonic. Materials ranging from polyester-impregnated paper and wood to titanium and the high-performance reinforced composites are compared with conventional aluminum alloys for subsonic vehicles. At high supersonic speeds, aerodynamic heating dictates use of high-temperature materials such as coated columbium, molybdenum, and TD nickel alloys. Fuselage, wing, tail, and engine nacelle components are individually considered for 5 representative subsonic and 3 supersonic configurations; 9 different material combinations are evaluated for the subsonic and 8 for the supersonic vehicles. Subsonic airframe total weights range from 36% less than conventional aluminum alloy to 34% more. The supersonic airframes weigh 25% less to 160% more than selected base cases. Cost tradeoffs are also considered.

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