High-Temperature Structures and Materials

T. A. Heppenheimer

Taking fullest advantage of the high-speed potential of rocket and air­breathing propulsion systems required higher-temperature structures. Researchers recognized that aerothermodynamics involved linking aerodynamic and thermodynamic understanding with the mechanics of thermal loading and deformation of structures. This drove use of new structural materials. NASA and other engineers would experiment with active and passive thermal protection systems, metals, and materials.

N AEROSPACE ENGINEERING, high-temperature structures and materials solve two problems. They are used in flight above Mach 2 to overcome the elevated temperatures that occur naturally at such speeds. They also are extensively used at subsonic velocities, in building high-quality turbofan engines, and for the protection of structures exposed to heating.

Aluminum loses strength when exposed to temperatures above 210 degrees Fahrenheit (°F). This is why the Concorde airliner, which was built of this material, cruised at Mach 2.1 but did not go faster.[1013] Materials requirements come to the forefront at higher speeds and escalate sharply as airplanes’ speeds increase. The standard solutions have been to use titanium and nickel, and a review of history shows what this has meant.

Many people wrote about titanium during the 1950s, but to reduce it to practice was another matter. Alexander "Sasha” Kartveli, chief designer at Republic Aviation, proposed a titanium F-103 fighter, but his vision outreached his technology, and although started, it never flew. North American Aviation’s contemporaneous Navaho missile pro­gram introduced chemical milling (etching out unwanted material) for aluminum as well as for titanium and steel, and was the first to use titanium skin in an aircraft. However, the version of Navaho that

Подпись: 9 Подпись: The Lockheed Blackbird experienced a wide range of upper surface temperatures, up to 600 °F. NASA.

was to use these processes never flew, as the program was canceled in 1957.[1014]

The Lockheed A-12 Blackbird, progenitor of a family of exotic Mach 3.2 cruisers that included the SR-71, encountered temperatures as high as 1,050 °F, which required that 93 percent of its structural weight be tita­nium. The version selected was B-120 (Ti-13V-11Cr-3Al), which has the tensile strength of stainless steel but weighs only half as much. But tita­nium is not compatible with chlorine, cadmium, or fluorine, which led to difficulties. A line drawn on a sheet of titanium with a pen would eat a hole into it in a few hours. Boltheads tended to fall away from assem­blies; this proved to result from tiny cadmium deposits made by tools. This brought removal of all cadmium-plated tools from toolboxes. Spot – welded panels produced during the summer tended to fail because the local water supply was heavily chlorinated to kill algae. The managers took to washing the parts in distilled water, and the problem went away.[1015]

The SR-71 was a success. Its shop-floor practice with titanium at first was classified but now has entered the aerospace mainstream. Today’s commercial airliners—notably the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A-380, together with their engines—use titanium as a matter of routine. That is because this metal saves weight.

Beyond Mach 4, titanium falters and designers must turn instead to alternatives. The X-15 was built to top Mach 6 and to reach 1,200 °F. In competing for the contract, Douglas Aircraft proposed a design that was to use magnesium, whose properties were so favorable that the aircraft would only reach 600 °F. But this concept missed the point, for manag­ers wanted a vehicle that would cope successfully with temperatures of 1,200 °F. Hence it was built of Inconel X, a nickel alloy.[1016]

High-speed flight represents one application of advanced metals. Another involves turbofans for subsonic flight. This application lacks the drama of Mach-breaking speeds but is far more common. Such engines use turbine blades, with the blade itself being fabricated from a single-crystal superalloy and insulated with ceramics. Small holes in the blade promote a circulation of cooler gas that is ducted down­stream from high-pressure stages of the compressor. The arrangement can readily allow turbines to run at temperatures 750 °F above the melt­ing point of the superalloy itself.[1017]