mission ready materials

Mission Ready Materials

You’ll Be Surprised to Find Out What Materials are Needed for These Missions

The first aircraft to fly, the Wright Flyer, was fabricated with spruce wood, steel wire and aluminum, providing the weight, strength and speed required for the Wright brothers to fly—for 3.5 seconds—on Dec. 14, 1903.

Today, with developments in technology, the variety and applications of materials have increased well beyond the Flyer. But, while the technology has evolved, selecting the right material for the job is just as critical as it was in 1903.

Keep reading to find out which materials work best for battling 20 foot waves or exploring Jupiter.


steel combat ship

Using the right combination of steel and aluminum is critical to building a strong and lethal ship, like the Freedom-variant littoral combat ship or frigate.

When it comes to protecting sailors at sea, the steel hull is designed to project strength.

“If the ship were ever to come under small arms fire, the munitions would ‘bounce’ off the steel without penetrating the hull,” said Dave Briggs, a senior analyst at Lockheed Martin.

U.S. Navy ships have been constructed from steel for decades, from the Ticonderoga-class cruisers to aircraft carriers. From a maintenance perspective, there is a large base of experience from which the U.S. and international navies can benefit. For example, steel corrosion is typically well understood and accounted for by builders and maintainers. At the same time, steel is suited for the harsh at-sea conditions, with better fatigue resistance, including particularly better weld crack resistance. 

Aluminum requires extra care because it can serve as a sacrificial anode (a material that disappears as it gives its electrons to the cathode in the reaction) to other more noble materials, such as steel machinery, copper piping and other equipment.


titanium satellite

It is dangerous inside Jupiter’s magnetic field—a region where swarms of electrons are moving at nearly the speed of light. This field is 18,000 times stronger than the Earth’s, making it the most intense radiation environment in the solar system.

When developing the Juno spacecraft, which is currently orbiting the planet, scientists and engineers needed a ‘suit of armor’ that would protect the sensitive electronics from the extreme radioactive environment. Their answer—a titanium vault.

The 400-pound vault houses Juno’s main computer and electronic components for many of the scientific experiments onboard the spacecraft. The density of titanium slows down the electrons, reducing the radiation doses inside the vault to 800 times lower than those outside.

Because of the unique radiation exposure at Jupiter, the use of titanium is key to the Juno mission. 


composites helicopter CH-53K

When hauling troops and equipment at high altitudes and hot temperatures, composite materials are key to developing a strong but lightweight helicopter, such as the CH-53K.

The CH-53K helicopter’s primary mission is hauling extremely heavy loads to places other vehicles can’t always reach.

High-efficiency all-composite rotor blades on the CH-53K are the largest and most technologically advanced ever produced by Sikorsky. Advanced geometric shaping of composite materials increase the helicopter’s performance and strength.

In addition to the rotor blades, the fuselage also makes extensive use of graphite-epoxy composite materials, which results in a corrosion resistant and lighter weight aircraft.