a brief history of helicopter rotor blade composition
A Brief History of Helicopter Rotor Blade Composition
The name helicopter derives from the Greek words “helix” meaning spiral and “pteron,” meaning wing. This rotary -- or spiral -- wing is made up of rotor blades, which is the focal point of this article. We will discuss a brief history of the different types of material used in the manufacturing of helicopter rotor blades and why the need for change lead the aviation industry to create what is now the most aerodynamic, durable, and lightweight rotor wings invented.
Rotor blades (RBs) can be made out of various materials depending on the requirements and purpose of the fuselage they are lifting. The first rotor blades to come into use were made out of laminated wood and fabric. This blade composition eventually proved troublesome due to wood's tendency to absorb moisture, even when laminated. This is due partly, because of the importance for RB mass uniformity and equilibrium essential for helicopter take-off and flight. Balanced RB wings ensure the absence of unwanted vortex swirls that create cumbersome turbulence. Thus, by the 1960s, wooden RBs were replaced by metals like steel and aluminium to solve absorption issues present in wooden RBs.
One thing that made the improvement of blades from wood to metal so lucrative was the fact that if one metal blade became damaged, that single blade could be replaced without the need to replace all the others. This was not the case for wooden blades because of their exact measurements being so difficult to duplicate. Ultimately, metal rotor blades presented more drawbacks than advantages. With poor longevity and a very low tenacity or strength-to-density ratio, metal blades would soon be substituted with composite material blades.
Composite materials like glass fibre reinforced plastic (GFRP) and its close relative carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) are fabricated in layers and with the science of anisotropy to produce an RB that displays both a high stiffness and a low density. These rotary wings are now industry standard and highly aerodynamic and lightweight. Manufacturers like Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. produce composite material rotor blades of superior quality and innovation.
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