Direct Chemical Attack

Direct chemical attack, or pure chemical corrosion, is an attack resulting from a direct exposure of a bare surface to caustic liquid or gaseous agents. Unlike electrochemical attack where the anodic and cathodic changes may be taking place a measurable distance apart, the changes in direct chemical attack are occurring simultaneously at the same point. The most common agents causing direct chemical attack on aircraft are: (1) spilled battery acid or fumes from batteries; (2) residual flux deposits resulting from inadequately cleaned, welded, brazed, or soldered joints; and (3) entrapped caustic cleaning solutions. [Figure 6-2]

With the introduction of sealed lead-acid batteries and the use of nickel-cadmium batteries, spilled battery acid is becoming less of a problem. The use of these closed units lessens the hazards of acid spillage and battery fumes.

Many types of fluxes used in brazing, soldering, and welding are corrosive, and they chemically attack the metals or alloys with which they are used. Therefore, it is important to remove residual flux from the metal surface immediately after the joining operation. Flux residues are hygroscopic in nature; that is, they absorb moisture, and unless carefully removed, tend to cause severe pitting.

Caustic cleaning solutions in concentrated form should be kept tightly capped and as far from aircraft as possible. Some cleaning solutions used in corrosion removal are, in themselves, potentially corrosive agents; therefore, particular attention should be directed toward their complete removal after use on aircraft. Where entrapment of the cleaning solution is likely to occur, use a noncorrosive cleaning agent, even though it is less efficient.

Electrochemical Attack

An electrochemical attack may be likened chemically to the electrolytic reaction that takes place in electroplating, anodizing, or in a dry cell battery. The reaction in this corrosive attack requires a medium, usually water, which is capable of conducting a tiny current of electricity. When a metal comes in contact with a corrosive agent and is also connected by a liquid or gaseous path through which electrons may flow, corrosion begins as the metal decays by oxidation.

[Figure 6-3] During the attack, the quantity of corrosive agent is reduced and, if not renewed or removed, may completely react with the metal, becoming neutralized. Different areas of the same metal surface have varying levels of electrical potential and, if connected by a conductor, such as salt water, will set up a series of corrosion cells and corrosion will commence.

All metals and alloys are electrically active and have a specific electrical potential in a given chemical environment. This potential is commonly referred to as the metal’s “nobility." [Figure 6-4] The less noble a metal is, the more easily it can be corroded. The metals chosen for use in aircraft structures are a studied compromise with strength, weight, corrosion resistance, workability, and cost balanced against the structure’s needs.

The constituents in an alloy also have specific electrical potentials that are generally different from each other. Exposure of the alloy surface to a conductive, corrosive medium causes the more active metal to become anodic and the less active metal to become cathodic, thereby establishing conditions for corrosion. These are called local cells. The greater the difference in electrical potential between the two metals, the greater will be the severity of a corrosive attack, if the proper conditions are allowed to develop.

The conditions for these corrosion reactions are the presence of a conductive fluid and metals having a difference in potential. If, by regular cleaning and surface refinishing, the medium is removed and the minute electrical circuit eliminated, corrosion cannot occur. This is the basis for effective corrosion control. The electrochemical attack is responsible for most forms of corrosion on aircraft structure and component parts.

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