How do you make a plane from carbon fiber?
Back in the early days airplanes were made from wood and canvas. Today most aircraft are made from aluminum. It is a tried and tested material but has its limitations with its strength and weight.
So to allow aircraft to fly further and for longer, Boeing had to look at other materials to make the next big leap in aviation.
That is why Boeing turned to carbon fiber, a material that has helped revolutionize aircraft manufacturing.
Why is carbon fiber special?
Aircraft designers want planes to be as light and efficient as possible. The lighter the aircraft, the less fuel it uses and the further it can fly.
But aircraft also need to be strong enough to withstand everything from hail storms to extreme winds. This balancing act has governed how aircraft are designed and how far they can fly for decades.
Carbon fiber changes the equation, because it is five times stronger than steel and half the weight. The design of the Boeing 787 uses carbon fiber to increase efficiency, reducing weight and also maintenance (as the carbon fiber does not corrode or rust).
It all means that Qantas Dreamliner, for instance, can fly non-stop routes like Perth (Australia) to London (UK), the third longest commercial flight currently in operation and the world’s longest Dreamliner flight. (The other part is more fuel efficient engines.)
Each blade is made from carbon fiber with a titanium edge and sensors within the engine send messages back to Qantas’ engineering base so they can monitor performance.
Carbon fiber also makes other design features possible. With traditional materials, making an aircraft window any bigger than it already is would require a lot of extra reinforcement under the skin for structural integrity. And that adds weight. Because carbon fiber is much stronger, the Dreamliner windows can be made much bigger without the weight penalty.
The strength of the carbon fiber also allows for improvements to the cabin atmosphere, which means the air inside the aircraft can be kept more humid. That, in turn, creates a nicer atmosphere for passengers, with more moisture helping reduce that dried out feeling after a long flight.
The windows on the 787 are up to 70% larger and according to Boeing everyone on the Dreamliner has a window seat.
Carbon fiber is also known as a composite material and the Dreamliner is built with 50% composites. The lighter material means it is more efficient than other aircraft of its size.
So how do you make a plane from carbon fiber?
The video below of Qantas’ first 787 being made shows the process of how carbon fiber is spun around the mold to create the fuselage of the 787.
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