Aluminum is one of the most quintessential materials in manufacturing, finding wide usage from cars and structures to household appliances and tools. One of the most notable uses of aluminum is for planes, or specifically, aircraft sheet metal! According to Aluminum Leader, 27% of all aluminum is used by the transportation industry.

Aluminum is one of the core materials in aerospace engineering. In the earlier days of aviation, wood was used as the primary material for aircraft structure. Although wood is lightweight and readily available, it is susceptible to corrosion and rot. As aviation evolved, aluminum quickly became the standardized metal for aircraft manufacturing.

Qualities of Aluminum

Aluminum strikes a balance between many positive traits that make it perfect for aircraft usage:

  • Lightweight
  • Strength
  • Resistant
  • Affordable

Other metals such as steel, titanium, and iron are stronger than aluminum, but aluminum’s availability and lightweight make it optimal for aircraft sheet metal manufacturing. Aluminum also exhibits great resistance to weather, stress, corrosion, and high tensile strength.

What Type of Aluminum is Used?

Aluminum is usually utilized as the main part of an alloy. There are many types of aluminum alloys used in engineering, with each alloy being referred to as a “grade.” The most used alloys are:

  • Aluminum 2024
  • Aluminum 3003
  • Aluminum 5052
  • Aluminum 6061
  • Aluminum 7075

Historically, 7075 has been the alloy most associated with aircraft operation. 7075 was created in Japan in the 1930s and by 1945 became the standard in aircraft manufacturing. Since then, newer alloys have been developed for use in conjunction with 7075.

Where in the Plane is Aluminum Used?

Aluminum is not exclusively used for the skin of a plane – most metal parts in an aircraft are aluminum!
Aircraft engines are primarily made with aluminum. During the creation of the first planes, the Wright Brothers initially attempted to use steel for their engines, but steel proved to be too heavy, so they opted for aluminum.

The furniture inside the plane is also primarily aluminum. Frames of seats, doors, and cabinets are often aluminum. However, plastics are also used for some furnishings, such as overhead bins.
Certain parts of an aircraft may prioritize strength past aluminum’s capabilities, and in these cases, other alloys are used.

Get Hands-On With Aircraft Sheet Metal!

NAA students have the opportunity to work directly with aircraft sheet metal as part of their curriculum! If you’re interested in entering the aviation maintenance industry through hands-on education and training, fill out the form below to get your career started!