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There is a continuing debate about what aerospace firms need to focus on with next generation aircraft.  The search for weight savings is relentless.  Whereas many think the battle has already been won by CRFP, the truth is less so. Take a look at this slide form a recent ALCOA briefing.

Feeding this debate is the fact that pure carbon fibers weigh 0.06 ounces per cubic centimeter. Aluminum weighs 0.1 ounces and and steel 0.28 ounces.  Carbon fiber weights 40% less than aluminum and 78% less than steel.  Even when one considers the carbon fiber being processed with resins and baked into structures, its weight is still 66% that of an aluminum equivalent.  It is these facts that make so many believe the debate is over. Everyone is impressed that a Formula One car driver, with a car made of CRFP, stands a good chance of withstanding a crash up to 186mph.

But as the chart shows, it is not. The two next generation airplanes from Bombardier and Mitsubishi have been careful in how they are deploying CRFP.  Airbus and Boeing are likely to use more of the materials on their re-engined airplanes but certainly will not make major changes in how these are made from current materials.

It seems the debate is far from over. Even though CRFP has been used by commercial aerospace for some 30 years it is not the panacea.  Like everything in aerospace, materials deployed are subject to tradeoff decisions.  Even though aluminum and steel are heavy, they will have a place on airplanes for a long time to come.  Firms (like ALCOA and Constellium) keep tweaking and developing new materials to reduce weight while keeping the attributes OEMs seek.

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