What’s in the wind, so to speak, regarding the aerospace industry? In our annual aerospace issue, let’s have a look. We will consider what’s coming for commercial aerospace and look at the impact of material developments.


CIT Aerospace predicts that the outlook for commercial aerospace will be driven by global GDP and the price of oil. The fastest aerospace growth is happening in Asia and Latin America, but U.S. growth is being fueled by the need to re-fleet. This will result in the replacement of 400-500 airplanes every year this decade. By the 2020s, replacement demand will grow to 700-800 per year.

Boeing’s forecast for the next 20 years is a $4.8 trillion market for more than 35,000 airplanes. Airbus’ forecasts to 2031 are similar – 28,200 airliners worth $4 trillion. The focus will be on the most efficient engines with lighter-weight materials (e.g., Dreamliner 787). The newest-generation Dreamliner will be manufactured in South Carolina instead of the traditional Washington state location. More about materials later.

For traditionally defense-focused companies such as General Dynamics (GD), commercial aircraft will be their focus. GD acquired Gulfstream in 1999, and the yearly revenue from the business-jet unit rose 17% to $8.1 billion while the combat division dropped 23% to $6.1 billion. The Gulfstream G650 is a $64.5 million business jet, which has a waiting time of four years. With a combination of speed, comfort and range, the G650 will not be challenged until 2016 with the introduction of the Bombardier Global 7000.

The helicopter industry will see significant changes on the horizon. Sikorsky is introducing the S-97 Raider, which is a compound-coaxial helicopter, as a production-ready prototype in 2015. The two rotors turn in opposite directions on a single, central mast. This design increases the maximum speed more than 100 mph to 275 mph, which gives it twice the range. In the defense arena, Sikorsky plans the SB-1 Defiant as the Black Hawk replacement. Top speed will be more than 300 mph. Tilt rotors are the alternative way other helicopter manufacturers are competing.

Material Development

Lightweighting to make the engine more efficient seems to be the key area of material development. Recent magEzine newsletters have discussed composite/steel blades as well as aluminum-alloy blades. Titanium aluminide (TiAl) also stands to make inroads in the next generation of turbine engines.

In the geared turbofan engine, TiAl can be used for blades in the last stage of the low-pressure turbine (LPT) and the last stage of the high-pressure compressor. Gamma TiAl has roughly half the density of nickel. Therefore, the blades are lower in weight, so the stresses on the disk are lower, which means the disk can be smaller. All of this contributes to better fuel economy.

TiAl can be processed by ingot or powder metallurgy, precision casting or forging. Aerospace is a tough market to crack, but TiAl appears to be the only promise for replacing nickel-based superalloys in these demanding applications. It is estimated that 1.2 million TiAl LPT blades will be manufactured in the coming years.

Space Preparation

A recent magEzine story covered the first micro-gravity 3D printer, which will be on the space station later this year. Having the ability to manufacture parts on-site in space has implications for space travel to Mars and the establishment of a settlement there.

In preparation for this type of settlement, in cooperation with NASA, an interesting experiment began on Oct. 15. Called HI-SEAS, a six-member crew will be spending eight months living in a 1,000-square-foot dome located at approximately 8,000-feet elevation in an abandoned quarry on the northern slope of Mauna Loa in Hawaii to simulate a Mars expedition. When the crew ventures out of their domed home to perform experiments, they will wear the type of space suits required in a Mars habitat. This is the third such mission undertaken by HI-SEAS.

One of the crew members is a graduate student from Purdue who will be blogging about her experiences. I, for one, intend to keep an eye on the adventure from time to time. You can follow along at fivestarview.blogspot.com/.

Groups such as Mars One believe that colonization of Mars is little more than a decade away. Their stated goal is that crews of four will depart every two years beginning in 2024. Sounds a bit optimistic, but you can help make it happen by checking out mars-one.com. Needless to say, it’s out of this world.