Structures and Materials Engineering
What is a structures and materials engineer?
Aircraft structures and materials engineers play a fundamental role in aircraft construction. They strive to create a strong, light and durable airframe that can house the avionics, flight deck, systems, passenger provisions and much more.
Just as you need the foundation for a house you also need to start somewhere on an aircraft. That’s where structures and materials engineers come in. From the inside out a structures and materials engineer will be involved in the building of the aircraft, making sure that the aircraft’s structural integrity and ability to accommodate the vital systems that complete passenger, cargo and fast jets.
A structures and materials engineer will have to have to consider the internal space of the aircraft once all of the carpets, seats and furnishings are put in. They consider the small things like how high the deck is in the fuselage. If they get this wrong then the cabin can feel claustrophobic and cramped, but if they get it right then they can enhance the special perception of passengers as they fly. Structures and materials engineers also have to look at the larger things like how maintenance engineers are going to be able to access key parts of the aircraft for vital checks and replacements.
It’s the structures and materials engineer’s role to deal with the analysis and design of structures that support or resist loads. In aircraft the forces on the structure can be significantly different to a static object such as high G-force, negative Gs, extreme high and low temperatures, loading and offloading and other extreme forces. A focus on materials used to bear loads in the construction of the mainframe and fuselage is a huge part of the structures and materials engineer’s world. They work with the latest materials such as composites of various existing materials and light weight but tough carbon fibre, previously the reserve of military aircraft but now found on even the largest passenger aircraft, to provide strong but effective engineered solutions.
Whilst it is possible to break into Structure and materials engineering with a MEng in Aerospace engineering it is something that can also be specialised in at postgraduate level. In the UK Cranfield run courses in structural and materials engineering at MSc level.