17 May 2024
Aluminium: The Winged Metal

What’s in your kitchen drawer that’s perfect for keeping your sandwiches warm, and can also whisk you away to 30,000 feet?

It’s the versatile metal, aluminium!

Aluminium not only shapes the sleek contours of modern aircraft but also serves as a linchpin in the aviation industry’s relentless quest to cut operational costs and enhance fuel efficiency, thanks to its lightweight properties. In the transportation industry, the stakes for reducing weight are quite high. In terms of cost, with every kilogram shed, it rises from a modest ₹495 in automobiles to a staggering ₹4,950,000 in space travel. Aluminium is indispensable, making up 75% to 80% of modern aircraft structures like the Boeing 737 – the best-selling jet airline that has significantly democratized global travel. Thus, aluminium helps in slashing costs while also aligning with the global push towards sustainable aviation practices.

Aluminium’s flight to fame in the aviation industry began with the Wright Brothers, who pushed the envelope with their Wright Flyer (the first human flight) in which they built a special engine from aluminium. During World War I, lightweight aluminium began to replace wood as an essential component for aerospace manufacture. The demand for aluminium was so great during the war that in 1942, a New York radio station aired, ‘Aluminium for Defense,’ to encourage Americans to contribute scrap aluminium to the war effort, promoting ‘Tinfoil Drives’ that even offered free movie tickets in exchange for aluminium foil balls. The infinitely recyclable aluminium today continues to revolutionize aircraft manufacturing, making aircrafts lighter, stronger, corrosion-resistant, and more fuel-efficient.

Aluminium is being used extensively in the aviation sector owing to its material versatility and its remarkable properties that meet the unique requirements of a modern aircraft. Its exceptional strength-to-weight ratio ensures it not only supports structural integrity of an aeroplane but also meets the rigorous demands of aviation from enduring extreme temperatures to being resistant to corrosion. Its applications stretch from the fuselage to the cockpit making it essential for safety and reliability. Moreover, the metal’s malleability allows for aerodynamic designs that further enhances performance and reduces the operational costs.

But it doesn’t end with just the airplanes. Aluminium also extends its reach to space exploration too. It has been a veteran of the space race since the launch of Sputnik and continues to be a trusted ally in NASA’s current lunar ambitions with the Orion crew module. Its journey from bearing the Napoleonic badge of a precious metal to becoming an essential aerospace material illustrates its evolution and ongoing innovation, driving us towards new frontiers in sustainable aviation, earning it the moniker ‘The Metal of the Future’!