Plastics are used in many applications throughout modern aircraft. These applications range from structural components of thermosetting plastics reinforced with fiber glass to decorative trim of thermoplastic materials.

Transparent Plastics

Transparent plastic materials used in aircraft canopies, windshields, and other similar transparent enclosures may be divided into two major classes or groups. These plastics are classified according to their reaction to heat. The two classes are Thermoplastic and Thermosetting.

Thermoplastic materials will soften when heated and harden when cooled. These materials can be heated until soft, and then formed into the desired shape. When cooled, they will retain this shape. The same piece of plastic can be reheated and reshaped any number of times without changing the chemical composition of the materials.

Thermosetting plastics harden upon heating, and reheating has no softening effect. These plastics cannot be reshaped after once being fully cured by the application of heat.

In addition to the above classes, transparent plastics are manufactured in two forms, monolithic (solid) and laminated. Laminated transparent plastics are made from transparent plastic face sheets bonded by an inner layer material, usually polyvinyl butyryl. Because of its shatter resistant qualities, laminated plastic is superior to solid plastics and is used in many pressurized aircraft.

Most of the transparent sheet used in aviation is manufactured in accordance with various military specifications. A new development in transparent plastics is stretched acrylic. Stretched acrylic is a type of plastic which, before being shaped, is pulled in both directions to rearrange its molecular structure. Stretched acrylic panels have a greater resistance to impact and are less subject to shatter; its chemical resistance is greater, edging is simpler, and crazing and scratches are less detrimental.

Individual sheets of plastic are covered with a heavy masking paper to which a pressure sensitive adhesive has been added. This paper helps to prevent accidental scratching during storage and handling. Care should be taken to avoid scratches and gouges which may be caused by sliding sheets against one another or across rough or dirty tables.

Sheets should be stored in bins which are tilted at approximately 10° from vertical, if possible. If they must be stored horizontally, piles should not be over 18 inches high, and small sheets should be stacked on the larger ones to avoid unsupported overhang. Storage should be in a cool, dry place away from solvent fumes, heating coils, radiators, and steam pipes. The temperature in the storage room should not exceed 120° F.

While direct sunlight does not harm acrylic plastic, it will cause drying and hardening of the masking adhesive, making removal of the paper difficult. If the paper will not roll off easily, place the sheet in an oven at 250° F for 1 minute, maximum. The heat will soften the masking adhesive for easy removal of the paper.

If an oven is not available, hardened masking paper may be removed by softening the adhesive with aliphatic naphtha. Rub the masking paper with a cloth saturated with naphtha. This will soften the adhesive and free the paper from the plastic. Sheets so treated must be washed immediately with clean water, taking care not to scratch the surfaces.

NOTE: Aliphatic naphtha is not to be confused with aromatic naphtha and other dry cleaning solvents which are definitely harmful in their effects on plastic. However, aliphatic naphtha is flammable and all precautions regarding the use of flammable liquids must be observed.

Reinforced Plastic

Reinforced plastic is a thermosetting material used in the manufacture of radomes, antenna covers, and wingtips, and as insulation for various pieces of electrical equipment and fuel cells. It has excellent dielectric characteristics which make it ideal for radomes; however, its high strength to weight ratio, resistance to mildew, rust, and rot, and ease of fabrication make it equally suited for other parts of the aircraft.

Reinforced plastic components of aircraft are formed of either solid laminates or sandwich-type laminates. Resins used to impregnate glass cloths are of the contact pressure type (requiring little or no pressure during cure). These resins are supplied as a liquid which can vary in viscosity from a waterlike consistency to a thick syrup. Cure or polymerization is effected by the use of a catalyst, usually benzoyl peroxide.

Solid laminates are constructed of three or more layers of resin impregnated cloths "wet laminated" together to form a solid sheet facing or molded shape.

Sandwich-type laminates are constructed of two or more solid sheet facings or a molded shape enclosing a fiberglass honeycomb or foam-type core. Honeycomb cores are made of glass cloths impregnated with a polyester or a combination of nylon and phenolic resins. The specific density and cell size of honeycomb cores varies over a considerable latitude. Honeycomb cores are normally fabricated in blocks that are later cut to the desired thickness on a bandsaw.

Foam-type cores are formulated from combinations of alkyd resins and metatoluene di-isocyanate. Sandwich-type fiberglass components filled with foam-type cores are manufactured to exceedingly close tolerances on overall thickness of the molded facing and core material. To achieve this accuracy, the resin is poured into a close tolerance, molded shape. The resin formulation immediately foams up to fill the void in the molded shape and forms a bond between the facing and the core.