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There is also the potential for interfacial bonds for int
between components to fail as the adhesive as
degrades over time. Many composite airframes ny com
in smaller sport and light GA aircraft use bonded t GA air
joints. A structure which contains bonded joints h contain
presents some potential long-term structural g-
durability issues.
Repair of an entirely bonded structure is also
challengingyou cant just unbolt a damaged
panel. The damaged area usually has to be
cut away and replaced, potentially inducing
secondary delamination. Also, determining the
extent of the damage in composites requires
a competent person, usually trained in non-
destructive testing (NDT), to assess the damage.
This is not the case in a metal structure where
the extent of the damage is usually apparent to
anyone, even those without NDT training.
Fatigue is not an issue in all-composite aircraft,
and material strains are low, but in-service skin
repairs, residual strength with hidden damage,
and lightning protection are concerns. Additionally,
there are some regulatory and industry capability
issues which should be considered.
Composite materials are not the new technology they once were.
Many basic sandwich/honeycomb panel composites have been in use
on civilian aircraft for decades and on military aircraft for even longer.
A common perception of the layperson, and even some in the industry,
is that composite materials do not age, or age at a much slower rate
than the equivalent metal structure. While it is true that bre laminate
structures are less susceptible to fatigue than their metal counterparts,
composites have their unique ageing problems.
AN AGEING ALL-COMPOSITE AIRCRAFT?
While many would think all-composite aircraft are immune to
ageing, some issues are beginning to emerge. These include, but are
not limited to:
hidden damage (delamination and disbond);
environmental susceptibility (i.e. trapped moisture freezing and
causing delamination); as well as
UV- and adhesive degradation. Many adhesives were not tested
for long-term durability in service. Many were tested only for
static and peel strength when newly applied, so there are many
unknowns here.
Cracking of ller materials, normally non-structural and in many
cases aesthetic in nature, but in some cases indicating a more
serious structural problem underneath.
Richard Castles, one of CASAs senior airworthiness engineers, with a
special interest in composite materials, looks at ageing and composites.
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composite-material aircraft
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COMPOSITE NDT CAPABILITY
The capability of industry NDT practitioners to detect and assess damage to advanced
carbon bre composite structure is emerging as an area which needs to be addressed.
Are there any training or knowledge gaps? Are all industry NDT practitioners up-to-
speed with advanced composite structural inspection, so that they can competently
detect hidden damage to primary and secondary structures?
New structural technologies employed in modern aircraft include carbon bre
wrapped or laminated structure with carbon bre stiffeners; monolithic 3D
composite structures; and extensive structure in which hidden disbonding or
delamination may not be immediately apparent. New equipment and inspection
techniques will be required to inspect this type of advanced structure. Are there
any training requirements which need to be identied? Do local and international
regulatory NDT qualication standards reect the level of expertise required to
inspect primary composite structures?
INDUSTRY REPAIR CAPABILITY
Some maintenance organisations in Australia possess very limited
capability to undertake advanced repairs of composite primary structure.
Current capability is generally conned to standard structural repair
manual (SRM)-based repairs on primarily secondary structure, and
limited to aluminium/Nomex honeycomb panels and simple bonded oneycomb panels and simple bonded
and laminate structures.
Modern composite aircraft contain a signicant portion of monolithic h signicant portion of monolithic
carbon/resin composite structure with integral stiffening, which will
make repairs more complex. Heat control during curing will require
advanced equipment, not just the traditional layup and heat
blanket approach. Major repairs will require advanced autoclave
capability, or advanced in-situ heat blanket repairs.
GROUND HANDLING DAMAGE
The characteristics of the structure of modern composite aircraft
are so different that it is not simply the maintenance technicians
and engineers who may need specialist training. With a
conventional metal structure, any collision between the aircraft
and ground support equipment is immediately apparent - there
will be dings, dents, gouges, scratches, etc.
You can assess the severity of such damage, often simply by
looking at it. However, with a composite structure, even a
severe impact may leave no discernible marks on the outside
of the structure. But it may be a different story insidewith
considerable structural damage: delamination, disbonds,
broken bres, rovings and so on. Research has examined m
the effects of high energy/blunt impact damage scenarios, a
such as those involving ground support equipment.
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Continued on page 41...
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C
arbon and
alum
inium
/titanium

are d
is
sim
ila
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m
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te
ria
ls, and
as such, corrosion
can occur in these
in
terface areas, so
w
e need to change
the m
in
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e
t tha
t
corrosion only occurs
in and be
tw
een
d
iffe
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n
t m
e
ta
ls
.
. . . Continued from page 32
To summarise:
Signicant damage can occur without visible surface indications.
Damage cannot be allowed to grow to degrade strength below design
ultimate. Residual strength is the criterion, NOT damage growth rate.
Damage must be detectable BEFORE residual strength falls below design
ultimate. This is damage tolerance.
LIGHTNING DAMAGE
The higher resistance of composites when compared to a traditional
metallic structure means that when a lightning strike occurs, more
heating of the composite matrix will occur, resulting in more instances
of melting or charring of the matrix resin. Repairs are likely to be
more complex. As with ground blunt impact damage, not all lightning
damage is easily detectable from the outside of the aircraft.
CORROSION PREVENTION AND CONTROL
You shouldnt assume corrosion prevention and control is not necessary
just because there is a high composite content in the aircraft. The
interface between carbon components and titanium/aluminium parts
and fasteners is the very place where dissimilar materials corrosion can
occur. Carbon and aluminium/titanium are dissimilar materials, and as
such, corrosion can occur in these interface areas, so we need to change
the mindset that corrosion only occurs in and between different metals.
REPAIRS OUTSIDE STRUCTURAL REPAIR MANUAL
LIMITS
There may be a need to assist industry engineers to acquire the
requisite knowledge to assess and provide repair schemes for damage
repair outside structural repair manual (SRM) limits. It is worthwhile
therefore to ask questions such as:
Are there any training or knowledge gaps?
Are engineers up-to-speed with advanced composite structures, so that
they can condently and competently approve and perform a repair
outside SRM limits? Many are highly competent, but some may require
assistance. Generally, large manufacturers will provide comprehensive
formal training, but what about smaller manufacturers?
IN SUMMARY
These are some of the maintenance challenges to be faced as our all-
composite aircraft age, but being forewarned is being forearmed. If c
we can anticipate the training and capability requirements in advance, w
then we will be better placed to implement strategies to deal with the tth
unique nature of modern composite aircraft. un
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