The next generation of jet fighter aircraft could fly farther and faster thanks to a new high-strength aluminum alloy prepared at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory. The new alloy is one material being developed for use in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a cutting-edge aircraft that will see widespread use as the primary fighter for the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and Marines as well as U.S. allies abroad.
Researchers at Ames Laboratory’s Materials Preparation Center will produce about 400 pounds of an aluminum-yttrium-nickel alloy over the next few months that will serve as a benchmark for testing and to help refine commercial production techniques. The material is being developed […] to replace heavier or costlier components in the “cool” sections of jet engines. The material also could be used in other parts of an aircraft such as wing spars.
If the new material performs up to expectations, it could have a dramatic impact on the performance and efficiency of both commercial and military aircraft. Jones said that Pratt & Whitney engineers estimated that replacing various components in one particular jet engine with the Al-Y-Ni alloy could potentially lighten the engine by 350 pounds. That’s an astronomical weight reduction in aircraft design, where engineers are typically happy to reduce the weight of components by a few pounds here or there.
“It means being able to carry significantly more fuel or payload,” Jones said. “It could also mean lower production costs,” pointing out that a bulkhead currently milled from a solid block of titanium for the JSF takes months to fabricate.
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