The purpose of this paper is to discuss, and analyze the development and application of boron composites in airframe structures.
Compounds of boron, most notably from unfinished borax ore, known as Tincal, were exported from Tibet in olden times. Historically, boron has been used for refining gold and silver in Arabia, ceramic glazes in China, and embalming in Egypt.
During the 13th Century A.D., "Regular imports of Tincal (name derived from tincana, the Sanskrit word for borax), from the Far East into Europe began along trade routes taken by Marco Polo's caravans. The source of Tincal (Tibet) and its methods of production remained a secret closely guarded by Venetian traders for four centuries."
Boric acid, a mild antiseptic, was isolated in the laboratory by chemistry professor William Homberg in 1720 and was discovered also occurring naturally from steam vents in Tuscany, Italy. Sir Humphrey Davy, a British chemist, and two French chemists, Joseph Gay-Lussac and Baron Louis Thenard, discovered boron in 1808 concurrently. However, it took another 155 years before science turned its focus from borax to boron, and began to reveal the secrets of this mysterious and valuable element.
"The recovery of pure crystalline boron did not succeed until the 1950s…Because of its ability to absorb neutrons the lighter isotope is important as an alloying component of boron steels used in nuclear reactors" (Stark, H.C). The revival of interest in boron in the late fifties and into the sixties was driven by the ability of the U.S. To introduce large quantities into a potentially lucrative global market. The elemental properties of boron were now well-known, and chemical variants began to find application in: grinding materials, lightweight armor, rocket motor propellant, and tools for metalworking.
Aerospace industries constantly seek new or improved hard, lightweight, heat resistant materials that can be introduced cost effectively into the manufacturing process. The introduction of high strength boron filaments and boron composite epoxy in the early 1960s, although expensive, lead to the rise of composites technology in aerospace manufacturing. Ceramic fibers including boron carbide were developed for use in heat-resistant composite materials such as ceramics.
Many components of helicopters, military aircraft, civil aircraft, missiles, and spacecraft, including satellites and space shuttles, are made from these high-strength, lightweight composites. Different kinds of fabrics and widths of woven composite filaments (some up to 60" wide) substantially increased the speed of hand lay-up processes. Boron's superior draping ability was enormously helpful in the manufacturing of complex and concave shaped products.
The emerging business of boron was clearly on the rise. Industrial consumption of boron in the world grew from 239,000 metric tons in 1964, to 443,000 metric tons in 1970.
Driving this growing market (especially in aerospace) were boron's inherent properties. It has an exceptionally high melting point, which is one reason it is very difficult and expensive to extract. It has the strength of steel, but is as light as aluminum.
Boron composite epoxies are very strong adhesives, corrosion and temperature resistant. Components bonded with boron adhesives require less maintenance. NASA found they could reduce the weight of the space shuttle by using these materials. "By using boron fiber-reinforced materials, there has been a saving of 20% of the take off weight of space shuttles" (Attallah).
RECENT DEVELOPMENTS OF BORON COMPOSITES
In the 1980s boron-reinforced aluminum composites were becoming an industry standard. Improvements in the mechanical properties, resistance to crushing of the filaments, the general robustness of the composite material, and the capability of being reliably shaped and joined led to the favorable reception of these composites.
Since the 1970s boron epoxy and boron fiber composites have been successfully demonstrated on various aircraft airframes including: the horizontal stabilizer of a General Dynamics F-111, the rudder on a selection of 50 McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms, and the tail unit of the F-15A in twin fins and rudders
In the late 1980s the Department of Science and Technology Organization (DSTO) a division of The Department of Defense developed a new crack patching system for aircraft, ships, and other structures. Similar in concept to repairing car body panels with fiberglass, DSTO used a boron composite material, Bortex, to repair cracks in critical airframe and structural components, such as the wings of the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, and aileron hinges on the Hornet fighter, with patches which are even stronger and stiffer than carbon fiber.
An Australian-based company, Helitech, signed a licensing agreement with DSTO in 1993 and has applied the…