Summer 2015

Composites - in aviation

TenCate materials are used in a variety of applications in aerostructures, ranging from commercial aircraft to helicopters to general aviation.  TenCate manufactures composites in two distinctly different resin forms, thermoplastic composites and thermoset composites. The current market is largely thermoset based with typical resins being epoxy. However, thermoplastics are now the area where the most growth is expected, primarily because of the benefits associated with thermoplastic composites.

In general, composites provide weight reduction and high strength. The use of composites provides weight reduction, which results in less fuel being consumed, and the weight reduction in structure allows more passengers or freight to be carried. Some of the newer commercial aircraft today such as the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350 use composites for the fuselage.  The use of composites in this application allows for more passenger comfort since the interior can be pressurized higher resulting in a more comfortable environment. Also unlike metals, composites do not corrode so this means less maintenance for the airlines. 

composites boeing

Boeing 787 (picture: Gail Hanusa)

Depending upon the aircraft, TenCate materials are used for the flight structures (wings, fuselage, flight control surfaces). The thermoset composites from TenCate are typically epoxy with either fibreglass or carbon fibre reinforcement, depending on the application. Fibreglass epoxies are used for fuselages and flight control surfaces on general aviation aircraft or UAVs, while carbon fibre epoxy is used for highly loaded structural parts, like wing spars and wings. TenCate Cetex® thermoplastic materials are typically used in interior applications (seats, galleys, floors, clips). On commercial aircraft such as the Airbus A380 thermoplastic composites are used on leading edges and in the fuselage frame for structural clips and brackets. 

In a more recent application for TenCate composites, TenCate materials are used to develop the structure (radomes) around communication and navigation antennas.  As a result of increasing communication options during passenger flights, the demand for in-flight internet access is growing. These are made of thermoset resins with either a glass- or quartz-based composite fabric. Radomes are typically part of the aircraft structure; they are used to cover antenna and other radio transmission devices. The radome protects the antennas and electrical systems while still allowing signals to pass through. TenCate materials are used on the nose radome of the Boeing 787, which houses navigation and weather radar equipment, as well as on-satellite communication (“satcom”) radomes, which bring internet and wifi connectivity to the passengers on the flight.  In North America TenCate supports the market for commercial and regional jets with radome materials. These unique carbon-free materials are also used on the radomes of military aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. 

Strict requirements on radomes

Strict requirements are in force for these materials; they must for example not become contaminated with conductive particles during production. These can lead to problems and communication failure. Any contamination, no matter how small, from carbon fibres or metal particles would create hot spots and result in damage to the radome and reduced radar efficiency. For that reason TenCate Advanced Composites makes these materials in its clean rooms in Morgan Hill (California). Materials from TenCate are valued since they are electrically pure and contain no carbon contamination. This allows high-powered radar signals to be transmitted through the radome without interference. The fabrics that TenCate uses for military radomes are made primarily of quartz, which is 99.9% pure glass. This material allows the radar to electrically see through it, much like an electronic window. TenCate materials are also used on shipboard radar for the same reasons.

Interior applications

TenCate materials are used for diverse parts of the aircraft interior. Examples include flooring, ducting, overhead bin structures, trolleys, aircraft seats and galleys, such as those of the Boeing 737s of Southwest Airlines. The materials for interior applications meet strict fire-safety requirements. TenCate Advanced Composites USA and UK supply composite materials to US and European manufacturers of aircraft seats. 

Using a combination of titanium and TenCate composite, the French company Expliseat manufactured the Titanium Seat: an aircraft seat weighing a mere 4 kilos - the lightest ever to have withstood the crash test. At JEC Composites 2014 in Paris (France) the makers of the seat were presented with the JEC 2014 Aircraft Interiors Innovation Award.

txtures 2 summer 2015 cover