Titanium is as important for the aerospace industry as the aerospace industry is for titanium metal producers, and other industries may follow suit.
If Icarus had used titanium to make his wings, rather than feathers and wax, he might have escaped from Crete and lived to tell the tale. While Boeing’s 777 only consisted of 5 percent titanium by weight, its new Dreamliner 787 consists of 15 percent titanium by weight and is surely the exemplar for the increased use of titanium in commercial aircraft manufacturing. (Boeing too seems to be having its own difficulties with things melting, but perhaps that may have a little more to do with another minor metal—lithium—than titanium.)
Titanium has been used in aircraft for nearly 60 years now, especially in military aircraft. Forty-two percent of the structural weight of the Lockheed Martin F22 Raptor, which entered service in the U.S. at the end of 2005, consists of titanium. And even back in the ‘60s, some 93 percent of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird’s structural weight consisted of titanium alloys. It is also used in the Lockheed Martin JSF (accounting for around a third of the aircraft by weight), and in the Airbus A350 and A380 commercial airliners.
Titanium Minimum Content By Weight In Aircraft (’000s lbs)
The importance of titanium in the aerospace industry cannot be overstated. According to the latest figures from the U.S. Geological Survey, in 2012, some 72 percent of titanium metal consumed in the U.S. was used in aerospace applications, with the remaining 28 percent being used in “armor, chemical processing, marine, medical, power generation, sporting goods, and other nonaerospace applications.”
Globally, as the English metal research house Roskill Information Services says in an overview of its forthcoming report on the metal (“Titanium Metal: Market Outlook to 2018”), with the increased use of composites, particularly carbon-compatible reinforced polymers (CFRP) in the manufacture of large passenger aircraft: “titanium’s position as a key material in the aerospace industry is assured and growing.”
Quite apart from all the other qualities that promote its use in the industry, titanium has one particular advantage over aluminum: It’s much easier to use in conjunction with composites. Unlike aluminum, not only do composites and titanium tend to contract and expand at the same rates, they neither corrode nor erode each other.