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Next generation of aircraft coatings systems

Abstract

The current generation of aircraft coatings had its basis in the polymer technologies of the 1970s and the use of chromate-based metal pretreatments and primers. There have been some incremental improvements in the epoxy and polyamide oligomers used in the primers as well as the isocyanates and flexible polyols used in topcoats, plus increases in the volume solids of the coatings to continue minimally meeting environmental requirements, but no truly new technologies have been developed and applied to aircraft coatings since that time. However, because of increasing economic and environmental pressures, this situation will soon change. Also, the U.S. Air Force is seeking a coating system that will have an ultimate lifetime of 30 years for maintenance cost control and fleet sustainability. The first change in the present coatings system will be in the pretreatments plus primers that currently constitute the metal protection system for the high strength Al alloys used for aircraft. For military aircraft, these alloys will continue to be Al 2024 T-3 and Al 7075-T6, heat-treated metals that have phase-separated regions rich in reactive metals such as Cu, Mg, and Zn. There are several new technologies now under consideration for such metal protection including conductive polymers as primers without Cr-based metal pretreatments, sol-gel based pretreatments and primers, plasma polymer metal pretreatments, and organo-modified aluminum oxide particles. Each of these technologies has shown some promise for Cr replacement, but each presently has a weakness that needs to be corrected for immediate usage. For the topcoat system, fluorinated polyols and improved use of UV-absorbers and light stabilizers will probably be the first changes implemented, with ceramer and other new crosslinking systems the most likely next polymer matrix candidates. The target for the entire coatings system is to have drastically improved wet-adhesion due to a covalently bonded system that has a gradient in composition that goes continuously from metal to metal oxide to mixed metal oxide/organic polymer to high-performance UV-stable organic polymer. The materials cost for such a system may be quite high, but the maintenance cost savings will much more than offset these costs.

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Department of Polymers & Coatings, Fargo, ND 58105.

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Bierwagen, G. Next generation of aircraft coatings systems. Journal of Coatings Technology 73, 45–52 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02730030

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Keywords

  • Coating System
  • Corrosion Protection
  • HALS
  • Plasma Polymer
  • Commercial Aircraft