The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is an aircraft that is being closely watched by the whole aviation industry. It is the first airliner to be built largely of composites which is supposed to help increase fuel efficiency which is the biggest financial issue in aviation.
Normally, the military drives innovation and the development and new technologies. In this case, Boeing may have been the innovator in the civilian sector, with Lockheed Martin pursuing development in the military arena.
Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Program, more commonly known as Skunk Works, is working to develop an advanced composite cargo aircraft for the US Air Force. Most people are well aware of the efficiency benefits of composites, but there are a lot more advantages than that.
According to the Lockheed Martin website, here are a couple of the other benefits:
The use of composites in aircraft manufacturing will mean lighter, less expensive and more durable aircraft that also are easier to maintain. For example, the Advanced Composite Cargo Aircraft manufacturing process will require far fewer parts and will dramatically reduce corrosion and metal fatigue issues.
Corrosion and metal fatigue are huge issues for military aircraft that are often forced to enter incredibly harsh environments where any material would be tested to its limits. Add to that the generally rugged nature of military operations, and it is clear that it takes a pretty special material to support that.
If that weren’t enough, you also have to consider the fact that military aircraft are almost always asked to serve much longer than they are originally planned. Reducing corrosion and fatigue would make it that much easier for aircraft to successfully operate even longer.
If these new materials and structural concepts are as effective as they hope them to be, than the new advanced composite cargo aircraft may change the way that military aircraft are built much the way the 787 Dreamliner could change the way airliners are built.