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HEN THE BOEING 787
Dreamliner fired its twin
engines and sped down a
runway in Seattle in
December 2009 for its
maiden flight, the new ultra-efficient air-
craft wasn’t the only thing taking off – the
composites industry was ascending as well.
The Dreamliner is the world’s first large
commercial jetliner with a fuselage made
primarily of carbon fiber composite rather
than aluminum, making the plane signifi-
cantly lighter and more durable. Boeing
and its partners created an automated way
to wrap carbon fiber tape that is pre-
impregnated with epoxy resin around a
mold to create the plane’s fuselage. The
mold is then placed in a pressurized auto-
clave, where heat triggers a chemical reac-
tion that cures the composite material,
giving it both strength and stiffness.
The result was Boeing’s most fuel-effi-
cient aircraft – 20 percent better than the
company’s comparable midsize 767 and
Airbus A330 models. The aerospace giant
also predicts it will save millions of dol-
lars in maintenance costs because com-
posites don’t corrode.
Passengers notice a difference, too. The
stronger composite body of the
Dreamliner lowers cabin pressure
(roughly the equivalent of a 6,000-foot
elevation) which introduces more humid-
ity in the cabin, leaving passengers feel-
ing less tired after a flight.
The Dreamliner is a wake-up-
and-take-notice application for a compos-
ites industry that has been feeling jet-
lagged from the recent economy. The
plane show-cases the many benefits of
composite materials (see sidebar
“Advantages of Using Composites”) and
W
AMERICAN COMPOSITES MANUFACTURERS • ASSOCIATION
INDUSTRY TODAY 13
“Unlike metals, which have equal strength in all directions, composites can be
custom-tailored to have strength in a specific direction. If a composite has to
resist bending in one direction, most of the fiber can be oriented to the
bending force. This creates a stiff structure in one direction, enabling more of
the material to be used where it counts.”