Magnesium and Magnesium Alloys

Magnesium, the world’s lightest structural metal, is a silvery white material weighing only two-thirds as much as aluminum. Magnesium does not possess sufficient strength in its pure state for structural uses, but when alloyed with zinc, aluminum, and manganese it produces an alloy having the highest strength to weight ratio of any of the commonly used metals.

Magnesium is probably more widely distributed in nature than any other metal. It can be obtained from such ores as dolomite and magnesite, and from sea water, underground brines, and waste solutions of potash. With about 10 million pounds of magnesium in 1 cubic mile of sea water, there is no danger of a dwindling supply.

Some of today’s aircraft require in excess of one-half ton of this metal for use in hundreds of vital spots. Some wing panels are fabricated entirely from magnesium alloys, weigh 18 percent less than standard aluminum panels, and have flown hundreds of satisfactory hours. Among the aircraft parts that have been made from magnesium with a substantial savings in weight are nosewheel doors, flap cover skin, aileron cover skin, oil tanks, floorings, fuselage parts, wingtips, engine nacelles, instrument panels, radio masts, hydraulic fluid tanks, oxygen bottle cases, ducts, and seats. Magnesium alloys possess good casting characteristics. Their properties compare favorably with those of cast aluminum. In forging, hydraulic presses are ordinarily used, although, under certain conditions, forging can be accomplished in mechanical presses or with drop hammers.

Magnesium alloys are subject to such treatments as annealing, quenching, solution heat treatment, aging, and stabilizing. Sheet and plate magnesium are annealed at the rolling mill. The solution heat treatment is used to put as much of the alloying ingredients as possible into solid solution, which results in high tensile strength and maximum ductility. Aging is applied to castings following heat treatment where maximum hardness and yield strength are desired.

Magnesium embodies fire hazards of an unpredictable nature. When in large sections, its high thermal conductivity makes it difficult to ignite and prevents it from burning. It will not burn until the melting point of 1,204 °F is reached. However, magnesium dust and fine chips are ignited easily. Precautions must be taken to avoid this if possible. Should a fire occur, it can be extinguished with an extinguishing powder, such as soapstone or graphite. Water or any standard liquid or foam fire extinguisher cause magnesium to burn more rapidly and can cause explosions.

Magnesium alloys produced in the United States consist of magnesium alloyed with varying proportions of aluminum, manganese, and zinc. These alloys are designated by a letter of the alphabet, with the number 1 indicating high purity and maximum corrosion resistance. Many of the magnesium alloys manufactured in the United States are produced by the Dow Chemical Company and have been given the trade name of Dowmetal ™ alloys. To distinguish between these alloys, each is assigned a letter. Thus, we have Dowmetal J, Dowmetal M, and so forth.

Another manufacturer of magnesium alloys is the American Magnesium Corporation, a subsidiary of the Aluminum Company of America. This company uses an identification system similar to that used for aluminum alloys, with the exception that magnesium alloy numbers are preceded with the letters AM. Thus, AM240C is a cast alloy, and AM240C4 is the same alloy in the heat-treated state. AM3S0 is an annealed wrought alloy, and AM3SRT is the same alloy rolled after heat treatment.

Titanium and Titanium Alloys

Titanium was discovered by an English priest named Gregot. A crude separation of titanium ore was accomplished in 1825. In 1906 a sufficient amount of pure titanium was isolated in metallic form to permit a study. Following this study, in 1932, an extraction process was developed which became the first commercial method for producing titanium. The United States Bureau of Mines began making titanium sponge in 1946, and 4 years later the melting process began.

The use of titanium is widespread. It is used in many commercial enterprises and is in constant demand for such items as pumps, screens, and other tools and fixtures where corrosion attack is prevalent. In aircraft construction and repair, titanium is used for fuselage skins, engine shrouds, firewalls, longerons, frames, fittings, air ducts, and fasteners.

Titanium is used for making compressor disks, spacer rings, compressor blades and vanes, through bolts, turbine housings and liners, and miscellaneous hardware for turbine engines.

Titanium, in appearance, is similar to stainless steel. One quick method used to identify titanium is the spark test. Titanium gives off a brilliant white trace ending in a brilliant white burst. Also, identification can be accomplished by moistening the titanium and using it to draw a line on a piece of glass. This will leave a dark line similar in appearance to a pencil mark. Titanium falls between aluminum and stainless steel in terms of elasticity, density, and elevated temperature strength. It has a melting point of from 2,730 °F to 3,155 °F, low thermal conductivity, and a low coefficient of expansion. It is light, strong, and resistant to stress corrosion cracking. Titanium is approximately 60 percent heavier than aluminum and about 50 percent lighter than stainless steel.

Because of the high melting point of titanium, high temperature properties are disappointing. The ultimate yield strength of titanium drops rapidly above 800 °F. The absorption of oxygen and nitrogen from the air at temperatures above 1,000 °F makes the metal so brittle on long exposure that it soon becomes worthless. However, titanium does have some merit for short time exposure up to 3,000 °F where strength is not important. Aircraft firewalls demand this requirement.

Titanium is nonmagnetic and has an electrical resistance comparable to that of stainless steel. Some of the base alloys of titanium are quite hard. Heat treating and alloying do not develop the hardness of titanium to the high levels of some of the heat-treated alloys of steel. It was only recently that a heat-treatable titanium alloy was developed. Prior to the development of this alloy, heating and rolling was the only method of forming that could be accomplished. However, it is possible to form the new alloy in the soft condition and heat treat it for hardness.

Iron, molybdenum, and chromium are used to stabilize titanium and produce alloys that will quench harden and age harden. The addition of these metals also adds ductility. The fatigue resistance of titanium is greater than that of aluminum or steel.

Titanium becomes softer as the degree of purity is increased. It is not practical to distinguish between the various grades of commercially pure or unalloyed titanium by chemical analysis; therefore, the grades are determined by mechanical properties.

Titanium Designations

The A-B-C classification of titanium alloys was established to provide a convenient and simple means of describing all titanium alloys. Titanium and titanium alloys possess three basic types of crystals: A (alpha), B (beta), and C (combined alpha and beta). Their characteristics are:

  • A (alpha) — all around performance; good weldability; tough and strong both cold and hot, and resistant to oxidation.
  • B (beta)—bendability; excellent bend ductility; strong both cold and hot, but vulnerable to contamination.
  • C (combined alpha and beta for compromise performances) — strong when cold and warm, but weak when hot; good bendability; moderate contamination resistance; excellent forgeability.

Titanium is manufactured for commercial use in two basic compositions: commercially pure titanium and alloyed titanium. A-55 is an example of a commercially pure titanium. It has a yield strength of 55,000 to 80,000 psi and is a general purpose grade for moderate to severe forming. It is sometimes used for nonstructural aircraft parts and for all types of corrosion resistant applications, such as tubing. Type A-70 titanium is closely related to type A-55 but has a yield strength of 70,000 to 95,000 psi. It is used where higher strength is required, and it is specified for many moderately stressed aircraft parts. For many corrosion applications, it is used interchangeably with type A-55. Both type A-55 and type A-70 are weldable.

One of the widely used titanium base alloys is designated as C-110M. It is used for primary structural members and aircraft skin, has 110,000 psi minimum yield strength, and contains 8 percent manganese.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Type A-110AT is a titanium alloy which contains 5 percent aluminum and 2.5 percent tin. It also has a high minimum yield strength at elevated temperatures with the excellent welding characteristics inherent in alpha-type titanium alloys.

Corrosion Characteristics

The corrosion resistance of titanium deserves special mention. The resistance of the metal to corrosion is caused by the formation of a protective surface film of stable oxide or chemi-absorbed oxygen. Film is often produced by the presence of oxygen and oxidizing agents.

Corrosion of titanium is uniform. There is little evidence of pitting or other serious forms of localized attack. Normally, it is not subject to stress corrosion, corrosion fatigue, intergranular corrosion, or galvanic corrosion. Its corrosion resistance is equal or superior to 18-8 stainless steel.

Laboratory tests with acid and saline solutions show titanium polarizes readily. The net effect, in general, is to decrease current flow in galvanic and corrosion cells. Corrosion currents on the surface of titanium and metallic couples are naturally restricted. This partly accounts for good resistance to many chemicals; also, the material may be used with some dissimilar metals with no harmful galvanic effect on either.

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