Precipitation Hardening in the First Aerospace Aluminum Alloy: The Wright Flyer Crankcase

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  11 Nov 1994:
Vol. 266, Issue 5187, pp. 1015-1017
DOI: 10.1126/science.266.5187.1015


Aluminum has had an essential part in aerospace history from its very inception: An aluminum copper alloy (with a copper composition of 8 percent by weight) was used in the engine that powered the historic first flight of the Wright brothers in 1903. Examination of this alloy shows that it is precipitation-hardened by Guinier-Preston zones in a bimodal distribution, with larger zones (10 to 22 nanometers) originating in the casting practice and finer ones (3 nanometers) resulting from ambient aging over the last 90 years. The precipitation hardening in the Wright Flyer crankcase occurred earlier than the experiments of Wilm in 1909, when such hardening was first discovered, and predates the accepted first aerospace application of precipitation-hardened aluminum in 1910.