Nickel and Nickel Alloys

There are basically two nickel alloys used in aircraft. They are Monel and Inconel. Monel contains about 68 percent nickel and 29 percent copper, plus small amounts of iron and manganese. Nickel alloys can be welded or easily machined. Some of the nickel Monel, especially the nickel Monels containing small amounts of aluminum, are heat-treatable to similar tensile strengths of steel. Nickel Monel is used in gears and parts that require high strength and toughness, such as exhaust systems that require high strength and corrosion resistance at elevated temperatures.

Inconel alloys of nickel produce a high strength, high temperature alloy containing approximately 80 percent nickel, 14 percent chromium, and small amounts of iron and other elements. The nickel Inconel alloys are frequently used in turbine engines because of their ability to maintain their strength and corrosion resistance under extremely high temperature conditions.

Inconel and stainless steel are similar in appearance and are frequently found in the same areas of the engine. Sometimes it is important to identify the difference between the metal samples. A common test is to apply one drop of cupric chloride and hydrochloric acid solution to the unknown metal and allow it to remain for 2 minutes. At the end of the soak period, a shiny spot indicates the material is nickel Inconel, and a copper colored spot indicates stainless steel.

Substitution of Aircraft Metals

In selecting substitute metals for the repair and maintenance of aircraft, it is very important to check the appropriate structural repair manual. Aircraft manufacturers design structural members to meet a specific load requirement for a particular aircraft. The methods of repairing these members, apparently similar in construction, will thus vary with different aircraft.

Four requirements must be kept in mind when selecting substitute metals. The first and most important of these is maintaining the original strength of the structure. The other three are: (1) maintaining contour or aerodynamic smoothness, (2) maintaining original weight, if possible, or keeping added weight to a minimum, and (3) maintaining the original corrosion resistant properties of the metal.

Metalworking Processes

There are three methods of metalworking: (1) hot working, (2) cold working, and (3) extruding. The method used will depend on the metal involved and the part required, although in some instances both hot and cold working methods may be used to make a single part.

Hot Working

Almost all steel is hot worked from the ingot into some form from which it is either hot or cold worked to the finished shape. When an ingot is stripped from its mold, its surface is solid, but the interior is still molten. The ingot is then placed in a soaking pit which retards loss of heat, and the molten interior gradually solidifies. After soaking, the temperature is equalized throughout the ingot, then it is reduced to intermediate size by rolling, making it more readily handled.

The rolled shape is called a bloom when its section dimensions are 6 inches × 6 inches or larger and approximately square. The section is called a billet when it is approximately square and less than 6 inches × 6 inches. Rectangular sections which have a width greater than twice their thickness are called slabs. The slab is the intermediate shape from which sheets are rolled.

Blooms, billets, or slabs are heated above the critical range and rolled into a variety of shapes of uniform cross section. Common rolled shapes are sheet, bar, channel, angle, and I-beam. As discussed later in this chapter, hot rolled material is frequently finished by cold rolling or drawing to obtain accurate finish dimensions and a bright, smooth surface.

Complicated sections which cannot be rolled, or sections of which only a small quantity is required, are usually forged. Forging of steel is a mechanical working at temperatures above the critical range to shape the metal as desired. Forging is done either by pressing or hammering the heated steel until the desired shape is obtained.

Pressing is used when the parts to be forged are large and heavy; this process also replaces hammering where high grade steel is required. Since a press is slow acting, its force is uniformly transmitted to the center of the section, thus affecting the interior grain structure as well as the exterior to give the best possible structure throughout.

Hammering can be used only on relatively small pieces. Since hammering transmits its force almost instantly, its effect is limited to a small depth. Thus, it is necessary to use a very heavy hammer or to subject the part to repeated blows to ensure complete working of the section. If the force applied is too weak to reach the center, the finished forged surface will be concave. If the center was properly worked, the surface will be convex or bulged. The advantage of hammering is that the operator has control over both the amount of pressure applied and the finishing temperature, and is able to produce small parts of the highest grade. This type of forging is usually referred to as smith forging. It is used extensively where only a small number of parts are needed. Considerable machining time and material are saved when a part is smith forged to approximately the finished shape.

Steel is often harder than necessary and too brittle for most practical uses when put under severe internal strain. To relieve such strain and reduce brittleness, it is tempered after being hardened. This consists of heating the steel in a furnace to a specified temperature and then cooling it in air, oil, water, or a special solution. Temper condition refers to the condition of metal or metal alloys with respect to hardness or toughness. Rolling, hammering, or bending these alloys, or heat treating and aging them, causes them to become tougher and harder. At times these alloys become too hard for forming and have to be re-heat treated or annealed.

Metals are annealed to relieve internal stresses, soften the metal, make it more ductile, and refine the grain structure. Annealing consists of heating the metal to a prescribed temperature, holding it there for a specified length of time, and then cooling the metal back to room temperature. To produce maximum softness, the metal must be cooled very slowly. Some metals must be furnace cooled; others may be cooled in air.

Normalizing applies to iron base metals only. Normalizing consists of heating the part to the proper temperature, holding it at that temperature until it is uniformly heated, and then cooling it in still air. Normalizing is used to relieve stresses in metals.

Strength, weight, and reliability are three factors which determine the requirements to be met by any material used in airframe construction and repair. Airframes must be strong and yet as light weight as possible. There are very definite limits to which increases in strength can be accompanied by increases in weight. An airframe so heavy that it could not support a few hundred pounds of additional weight would be of little use.

All metals, in addition to having a good strength/weight ratio, must be thoroughly reliable, thus minimizing the possibility of dangerous and unexpected failures. In addition to these general properties, the material selected for a definite application must possess specific qualities suitable for the purpose.

The material must possess the strength required by the dimensions, weight, and use. The five basic stresses which metals may be required to withstand are tension, compression, shear, bending, and torsion. The tensile strength of a material is its resistance to a force which tends to pull it apart. Tensile strength is measured in pounds per square inch (psi) and is calculated by dividing the load in pounds required to pull the material apart by its cross-sectional area in square inches.

The compression strength of a material is its resistance to a crushing force which is the opposite of tensile strength. Compression strength is also measured in psi. When a piece of metal is cut, the material is subjected, as it comes in contact with the cutting edge, to a force known as shear. Shear is the tendency on the part of parallel members to slide in opposite directions. It is like placing a cord or thread between the blades of a pair of scissors (shears). The shear strength is the shear force in psi at which a material fails. It is the load divided by the shear area.

Bending can be described as the deflection or curving of a member due to forces acting upon it. The bending strength of material is the resistance it offers to deflecting forces. Torsion is a twisting force. Such action would occur in a member fixed at one end and twisted at the other. The torsional strength of material is its resistance to twisting.

The relationship between the strength of a material and its weight per cubic inch, expressed as a ratio, is known as the strength/weight ratio. This ratio forms the basis for comparing the desirability of various materials for use in airframe construction and repair. Neither strength nor weight alone can be used as a means of true comparison. In some applications, such as the skin of monocoque structures, thickness is more important than strength, and, in this instance, the material with the lightest weight for a given thickness or gauge is best. Thickness or bulk is necessary to prevent bucking or damage caused by careless handling.

Corrosion is the eating away or pitting of the surface or the internal structure of metals. Because of the thin sections and the safety factors used in aircraft design and construction, it would be dangerous to select a material possessing poor corrosion resistant characteristics.

Another significant factor to consider in maintenance and repair is the ability of a material to be formed, bent, or machined to required shapes. The hardening of metals by cold working or forming is termed work hardening. If a piece of metal is formed (shaped or bent) while cold, it is said to be cold worked. Practically all the work an aviation mechanic does on metal is cold work. While this is convenient, it causes the metal to become harder and more brittle.

If the metal is cold worked too much, that is, if it is bent back and forth or hammered at the same place too often, it will crack or break. Usually, the more malleable and ductile a metal is, the more cold working it can stand. Any process which involves controlled heating and cooling of metals to develop certain desirable characteristics (such as hardness, softness, ductility, tensile strength, or refined grain structure) is called heat treatment or heat treating. With steels the term “heat treating" has a broad meaning and includes such processes as annealing, normalizing, hardening, and tempering.

In the heat treatment of aluminum alloys, only two processes are included: (1) the hardening and toughening process, and (2) the softening process. The hardening and toughening process is called heat treating, and the softening process is called annealing. Aircraft metals are subjected to both shock and fatigue (vibrational) stresses. Fatigue occurs in materials which are exposed to frequent reversals of loading or repeatedly applied loads, if the fatigue limit is reached or exceeded. Repeated vibration or bending will ultimately cause a minute crack to occur at the weakest point. As vibration or bending continues, the crack lengthens until the part completely fails. This is termed shock and fatigue failure. Resistance to this condition is known as shock and fatigue resistance. It is essential that materials used for critical parts be resistant to these stresses.

Heat treatment is a series of operations involving the heating and cooling of metals in the solid state. Its purpose is to change a mechanical property or combination of mechanical properties so that the metal will be more useful, serviceable, and safe for a definite purpose. By heat treating, a metal can be made harder, stronger, and more resistant to impact. Heat treating can also make a metal softer and more ductile. No one heat treating operation can produce all of these characteristics. In fact, some properties are often improved at the expense of others. In being hardened, for example, a metal may become brittle.

The various heat-treating processes are similar in that they all involve the heating and cooling of metals. They differ, however, in the temperatures to which the metal is heated, the rate at which it is cooled, and, of course, in the final result.

The most common forms of heat treatment for ferrous metals are hardening, tempering, normalizing, annealing, and casehardening. Most nonferrous metals can be annealed and many of them can be hardened by heat treatment. However, there is only one nonferrous metal, titanium, that can be casehardened, and none can be tempered or normalized.

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