Brighter outlooks pervaded the SAMPE exhibition and conference held May 17-20 in Seattle.
The volume of polymer-matrix composites coming on line in commercial production dwarfs what we are doing on the defense side, said Frank Doerner, vice president of materials, processes and structures technologies with Boeing Co.'s research and technology group.
The first flight of the 50 percent-composite Boeing 787 jet airliner took place Dec. 15 and four aircraft in the test phase have accumulated 236 flights and about 720 hours of time in the air, Doerner said in a keynote address.
Customer delivery of the 787 is two years behind schedule, but Boeing promises improvements, he said.
Passengers will benefit from higher cabin pressure, resembling 6,000-foot elevation, higher cabin humidity, larger windows and more room. For airlines, the 787's structural maintenance check goes to 12 years from the existing six-year mandate for the thorough analysis of most airliners.
Doerner said Chicago-based Boeing is exploring 737-model options either to re-engineer the existing aircraft or to develop a total replacement. For the popular single-aisle 737, we can't easily scale down [787 technology] proportionately. For example, the thinner skin would be more susceptible to hail damage, he said.
Doerner said Boeing consolidated its composites operations within one organization in early 2010. Previously, Boeing pursued composites work separately within its commercial, defense and research organizations.
Doerner described nanotechnology as an enabler for solving some issues such as heat dissipation.
Advanced composites have fundamentally changed the aerospace industry in terms of performance, cost and environmental compliance, Doerner noted.
There is tremendous potential for advanced composites to continue changing the aerospace industry, he said.
The industry needs more composites analysts, S. Eric Cregger, a Boeing technical fellow, said in another lecture. We need more trained people although a lot of young engineers are coming up to speed.
Difficulties can emerge in exploring composites' much larger design space, Cregger noted. For example, inexperienced analysts often incorrectly use the axial/membrane stiffness rather than the bending stiffness for bending.
Cregger said composites have a role but are not the best choice for all applications.
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