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Plastics Paving Our Way to the Sky

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Since 1970, plastics have been a major component in the aerospace industry. Though plastic materials were established in the late 1800s and set in use in the 1930s, it was not until World War II that it was installed in aircrafts. Owing to the lack of several manufacturing supplies in the war-time, engineers initially saw to plastics to substitute rubber components in airplanes. One of the first applications for aerospace plastic components was the lining for fuel tanks. Ultimately, high performance plastics were industrialized to be used in parts of planes and helicopters. 

Various components and navigational functions, structural elements and interior components are all made out of plastic. Plastic has numerous advantages like lightweight properties, ten times lighter than their metal counterparts, and can be economic in nature. It is also prone to resist corrosive materials and do well in chemically severe surroundings. Transparent plastics on the other hand have more impact resistance than glass, which increases safety. These factors make plastics an ideal choice in comparison to the metal alloys usually employed in the aerospace industry

Some common plastics and their possible applications are conversed below. 

Polyetheretherketone (PEEK), is a semi-crystalline organic polymer favoured in the aerospace industry. It is used in conditions where it may be bare to low temperatures and atmospheric elements. Its applications can originate in pump gears and valve seats. It can endure huge quantities of radioactivity and has excessive resistance to hydrolysis i.e. it can be exposed to high-pressures of water and vapor without degrading. Besides, it displays great thermal and mechanical properties of low flammability and creep resistance. PEEK’s functioning temperature goes up to 450 °F. Common applications consist of valve seats and pump gears. 

Thermosetting Polyimide is used in countless physical applications in the aerospace industry. It has high resistance to chemicals and shows outstanding mechanical properties. The major benefit that it proposes is the ductileness, ceramics and less in weight than metals. Instances of probable applications include electric standoffs (spacers) and insulators for threaded nuts and other components. 

Polyamide-imide (PAI) is favoured due to its resilience to most substances and radiation at room temperature. It is fire resistant and therefore does not let off fume when it burns. It has a high mechanical strength that holds up to 500 °F. Due to these assets, PAI is often used as a replacement for many metal components in the aerospace industry.

Polychlorotrifluoroethylene (PCTFE), a fluorochemical plastic, a material suitable to be used in or outside corrosive surroundings. It has an ideal combination of physical and mechanical properties, fire and chemical resistance, and very low moisture absorption. It can bear temperatures from -400 °F to +400 °F and displays countless electrical properties making it a fitting choice for aerospace applications.

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is a fluorocarbon polymer and an electrical insulator. It has high tear resistance, low flammability and can retain its properties in aerospace conditions. PTFE is used for insulating the myriad wires and cables in an aircraft.

There is a diversity in the usage of plastics in aerospace applications as it weighs less, doesn’t erode, manufactures easily, is flame, fume, toxicity and heat release acquiescent. It offer a comprehensive flexibility in terms of design, colour, and texture. Plastic parts last longer and need not as much of maintenance than other materials. One of the prime motives for using plastics is eradicate weight from the plane thus reduces fuel consumption and cost. Therefore, plastics are used both inside and outside the aircraft, including cargo containers, dashboard enclosures, cockpit visors, dashboard enclosures, nose cones, beverage carts, counter backsplashes, mirrors, toilets, ceiling and wall panels and partitions, flooring, light lenses, signage, video bezels, various seating parts, window reveals, shades and dust panes.

For the economy of now, the hiked fuel cost and the appeal to lower ticket prices stimulates airline companies to buy minimum weighted aircrafts. With its light weight and resistance to high temperatures and corrosive materials, plastics can substitute metal or rubber components. The next decades will soon see aircrafts with plastic wings and tails.

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