While engineers will often discuss how various metals and composites are crucial for the integrity and overall functionality of an aircraft, many other materials also play large roles in standard operations and construction. Rubber in particular is a material that is beneficial to many applications due to its water resistance, heat resistance, strength, and resiliency. For aircraft in particular, rubber material components can be produced to act as adhesives, sealants, heat shields, and many other part types. In this blog, we will provide a brief overview of how various natural rubber and synthetic rubber materials are used in aircraft and how their characteristics benefit such applications.
As aircraft often operate at high altitudes where pressure needs to be controlled and maintained within the cabin, rubber materials are regularly used as sealants or gaskets for window channels, cabin doors, and other such assemblies. With rubber, flexible but airtight seals can be achieved which is essential for the aircraft pressurization system. Rubber seals and gaskets can also be used in many other areas of the aircraft such as for fuel bladder tanks and other fuel storage equipment to ensure that aircraft fuel is unable to leak out of assemblies. When rubber is used to seal equipment such as piping, tubing, or oil hose assemblies, o-rings, gaskets, and other components may be used to prevent the leaking of oil, hydraulic fluid, or other liquids.
During typical flight operations, areas around the engine can often reach extreme temperatures as a result of the combustion of fuel and air mixtures. Furthermore, temperatures at the high altitudes that aircraft operate in can also be very low. As such, many parts across an aircraft may face very high and low temperatures that may fluctuate over time. With a rubber material such as silicone, extreme temperatures can be more adapted to in order to prevent failure.
When procuring various rubber materials or parts, it is important to ensure that all specifications and requirements of the assembly are met by the rubber in question. The failure of a rubber component can be detrimental depending on its application, especially if it is used to prevent the leaking of aircraft fuel or for maintaining cabin pressurization. When making a decision, one should discern the temperatures, pressures, environment, and other factors of the application that may affect the performance or service life of the rubber material.
Neoprene is a common rubber material that is quite resilient while providing a low compression set. With moderate resistance to oil, water, and ozone as well as a temperature range of -65 to 260 degrees Fahrenheit, such synthetic rubber materials are beneficial for a number of applications. Due to the characteristics of neoprene, it should not be used in the presence of brake fluids, phosphate esters, or ketones.
Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer, otherwise known as EPDM, is a rubber that exhibits high weatherability characteristics alongside low gas permeability. EPDM is very resistant to ozone, brake fluids, and water, and the temperature range for such materials is -60 to 280 degrees Fahrenheit. To best use EPDM rubbers, such components should not be implemented for applications that involve diester lubricants or petroleum oils.
Silicone is the last major rubber used for aviation, and it is one of the most effective rubbers for diverse temperatures with an operating range of -150 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite suffering from poor tensile strength and tear characteristics, silicone is resistant to brake fluids, dry heat, aniline point oils, and more. Silicone may also be used to produce many important rubber components, often coming in the form of silicone gasket parts and other such products.
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