back to article Airbus brews Scandium smackdown for carbon Dreamliner

Having made its first commercial flight on October 26, with a chartered promotional flight to Hong Kong, the new 787 Dreamliner enters regular airline service today. This is of course a great excuse for us to talk about the competition between the differing technologies and market visions favoured by rival aerospace colossi …


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  1. Voland's right hand Silver badge


    So now China will hold a gun to the head of the Airbus as much as it does to the heads of electronics manufacturers.

    What a jolly good idea - make your design dependent on a material which has a single source which is known to be controlled in a manner that is best described as err... politically motivated.

    No thanks, I'd rather go with Carbon Fibre here...

    1. Tim Worstal


      Sc doesn't come from China. I actually send Sc into China in fact.

      While it's associated with the rare earths you don't actually get it from rare earth ores. Rather, from the wastes of other metal production: tin, tungsten, tantalum, zirconium, aluminium if you like.

      I'm in the process of trying to open an extraction plant in Eastern Germany for example.....

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cheated on by Airbus?

    Interesting article, but it rather overlooks the fact that the A350 will have a greater percentage weight in carbon than the 787.

    The real competition between the two is Airbus' 'chucks of carbon' construction policy (allowing easy of repair) vs. Boeing's 'huge tracts of composite' approach which is ultimately a little lighter, but very hard to repair.

  3. Anomalous Cowherd Silver badge


    One for the article, one for the footnote.

  4. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. Tim Worstal


      That's me. Get on to the editor here to hire me more often then I can lower my scandium prices and still make the mortgage.....

      1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  5. Hnk0


    I understand an alloy airframe can be recycled, whereas when a carbon fibre one cannot. But then I might be talking out of my arse there, and even if I'm correct, does this have an impact in terms of end of life disposal that is so big it will influence purchasing decisions?

    1. Tim Worstal

      Not important

      Value of Al alloy scrap from a plane, maybe $1,000 a tonne, something like that. As against $30 million value for the 300 tonne beast as an airplane?

      There is a scrap value, yes, but it's not really germane.

      1. JohnG

        How about recycling carbon fibre? Does it have a scrap value like aluminium or is difficult and expensive to recycle?

        1. Pigeon

          The strength of carbon fibre comes from the absence of fractures. Often rockets etc. are wound with fibre, and then embedded in epoxy. Once you chop it up, it's useless.

  6. David Evans

    If I was a betting man

    I'd bet on Airbus, because a. The "Hubs" have a lot of money invested in their infrastructure, and more importantly a lot has been in invested in ground transport links to an from these airports, and b. people like big aircraft because they erroneously think it means more room, when in reality it doesn't, and it takes twice as long to get on and off the damn things. (However, if the likes of RyanAir ever decided to go long haul, I bet the Dreamliner approach would be their choice every time).

    The other thing that worries me about the Dreamliner is the longevity and repairability of carbon fibre; I don't know much about Scandium (my hands on aerospace experience is 20-odd years out of date) but I'm still a bit twitchy about composites for so much of a commercial airframe.

    1. Tim Parker

      @David Evans

      "I don't know much about Scandium ... but I'm still a bit twitchy about composites for so much of a commercial airframe."

      That's the same feeling I get. I'm not a materials expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I seem to recall hearing about the structural robustness of metal skinned aero-frames over the years - things like the metal tearing, not disintegrating, and rivets not just being a point of weakness but also a termination point for tears etc. Metal just seems to fail quite nicely to me....

      The only times i've seen composites let go (and, yes, it does take a fair bit as long as you don't dink it in the wrong direction) it has been pretty much catastrophic - not an appealing vision for me as an aircraft passenger.

      Is there anybody here with any materials background who could shed any light on the merits, or otherwise, of the two approaches with regard to material failure ?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Qualified Aircraft Engineer

        At least in my past I was an RAF Engineering Officer, so I'm a little qualified to talk about this. Basically, failure modes of metal skinned aircraft and carbon fibre are both pretty reasonable (so long as you don't do anything really stupid - like overstress the airframe in compression testing on an aircraft with square windows like the Comet). Rivets can terminate crack propagation, but the directional weave of fibre can be fine after impact as well, cracks can't propagate across the weave, although delamination can be an issue. One issue with welding is that there are no places to stop cracks propagating - for example, look at the liberty ships in the second world war. Generally though, crack propagation isn't an issue in airlines since you work hard to maintain the material in a region where it is ductile not brittle.

        Personally though, I dislike carbon fibre in a passenger airliner because fibre is a beast to maintain. If you get a bird strike on tertiary structure of a metal skinned aircraft (tertiary structure is non-load bearing structure like most of the skin), you can cut the damaged piece out and rivet in a new piece. With fibre, the same bird strike will delaminate most of that section, a lot of the damage can't be easily seen, and you end up removing huge swathes of material because you are worried damage can have spread a long way. Replacing that material is then a nightmare job.

        Personally, I'll avoid Dreamliners if I can until they have at least 10 years of service in them.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Another Licensed (Civil) Aircraft Engineer

          Composites offer a lot of advantages over metal, however in my book metal offers one big advantage over composites, you can repair it by cutting out bits and riveting in a new bit.

          I say this as a licensed aircraft engineer who saw 5 brand new aircraft all receive damage from ground support vehicles within 2 months of the aircraft being delivered to the airline and all needed structural repair.

      2. Mike Powers

        Airframes are generally pretty low margin

        Composites do indeed fail catastrophically when they go, but that's not to suggest that they can't be designed with sufficient margin. While there are some intricacies to composite design, the basic concepts of stress-versus-load still apply.

        While you're correct that metal has more capability for plastic (yielding) deformation before failure, it's also the case that aircraft are manufactured right down to the razor's edge of margin. Every extra pound means you have to burn that much more fuel on every trip. I think that the 747's cross-section area between the frames is only something like twelve square inches. So while the metal could conceivably have some strength left after yielding, it probably wouldn't have all that much; and aluminum doesn't yield all that much before failure anyway (only a factor of 1.12 between yield stress and failure stress, versus about 1.67 for cold-drawn stainless steel.)

        If you're worried about composites being used as major structures, that ship has sailed (er, that plane has flown?) Airbus has been making composite tails for years--in fact, in November 2001 there was an airliner crash in New York where the tail snapped off due to overstressing (pilots had been improperly trained to seesaw the rudder violently to handle turbulence.)

        Ultimately, it seems like it's as you describe--the benefit of composites (or weldments) is that you can reduce the amount of joinery you need, saving that part of the weight. You also get a small benefit from reducing the work at your primary assembly facility (bigger subsections = less time bolting them together) although you're really just spreading the labor out to the subsection manufacturers.

        Note that they're still using fasteners to assemble the 787 (in fact there was a big problem with their fastener supply chain--they just assumed that there would always be plenty of aircraft-grade bolts available. Unfortunately, when all the defense-industry work went away, the fastener suppliers went out of business!) They just have to be more careful about it. i.e. instead of just punching a hole with a simple die punch, they have to drill and ream and clean. Instead of just slapping on a rivet and letting everything mush itself into place by yielding, they have to use a special-made washer with a curved face to avoid gouging the composite surface (or spend time countersinking every place there's going to be a fastener.) People have tried to make bonded joints for composite structures and nobody's ever found a way to do it that's as good as a bolted joint without being just as much work. (you have to design specifically to make the bonded joint work--any peel stress will kill it dead, just like ripping a piece of Velcro open versus trying to slide it off.)

        1. Tim Parker

          Thanks for all the information everyone, plenty of food for thought and further study. Cheers

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      longevity of composite airframes


      Take a look at the airframe integrity analysis conducted on a decommissioned Beech Starship. That plane is all composite and pressurized. Don't have a link right now but googling for a bit should get you there...

      Something else I have heard repeatedly about the Starship is that its composite hull holds up extremely well even in a high cycle environment (much better when compared to conventional designs). The same can't unfortunately be said about the metal mesh embedded into the wings for lightning protection... corrosion issue and no known way to fix it...

    3. Barry 8

      Hubs Smubs

      Boeing is building 737s as fast as they can to support the HUB users.

  7. spencer

    Unnamed bicycle manufacturer using

    I'd very much like to know who's making these Al Sc frames please!

    (especially the cheaper non-brand)

    1. Robert E A Harvey

      It can't be very difficult to find someone with 2 product lines, one of which is advertised as containing Scandium.

      1. spencer


        my 15mins of googling came up with zilch :-(

  8. Roger Stenning
    IT Angle

    It's amazing... you make such a dry subject sound so interesting. Especially the last sentence ;-)

    However, one has to wonder: Where's the IT angle? It's all sciencey and boffinesque, yes, but... um... where are the world-dominating terminator-like computers in all of this?

    Anyhow, nicely written, thoughly enjoyed it. Even without the T-1000s. Carry on, that man :-)

    1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  9. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    point to point versus hub and spoke

    I've no opinion on Scandium (sorry, M. Worstall) but hub and spoke is the most unpleasant transport system ever invented. The ability to go point to point is, after all, why most of us are so attached to our cars, versus public transport.

    Europe to US west coast is about 10 hours, direct. Add a connection and the total time can extend from 12 to 17+ hours, depending on where the connection is (midpoint (east coast) is worst, great circles being what they are). Add that to the requirements for another miserable set of airport security theatre each time you add a connection, and there's simply no contest.

    Boeing's onto a winner here, and I say that having flown in a 380 (and then joined the queue for US immigration along with the other 500-odd passengers). Nice plane, crappy idea.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      hubs&poke vs point2point

      In practice this is a trade off, surely? Even if you can get a p2p flight between your two desired locations, will there be enough passenger demand for the route to support the flight-per-day you also want? Probably the balance will shift, but by how much?

    2. Barry 8
      Paris Hilton

      Only 17 hrs.

      As an Alaskan we don't have many Point to Point flights to America. My last flight was 20 hours and changing planes 3 time going down. Going back up I only had to change a plane one and the trip still took 12 hours.

    3. Drew V.

      This applies less less in Europe, where you have high-speed rail everywhere and people are somewhat less attached to cars. If you live in, say, the outskirts of France, then you take the high-speed train to the big hub in Paris and take the plane from there.

      Ditto for Japan: you take the shinkansen bullet train to either Tokyo or Osaka, the big international hubs.

      Even with the various improvements to airliners, trains continue to be more energy-efficient per passenger, and getting more efficient still. They are also far more environmentally friendlier.

      Not surprising, therefore, that Airbus has gone with the A380 idea. From a European and Asian POV I think it makes sense and is quite forward-looking. From an American POV it makes less sense, but that may yet change.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        train + plane

        I live in France, and neither I nor my frequent-travelling business colleagues would ever take TGV+plane if there's a plane+plane option instead. It makes a long journey even longer, and if the train is cancelled or late (or on strike) you have few options for rerouting. You also need to ensure that your TGV has a flight number, so that the entire end-to-end trip is counted as one journey on one ticket, which pretty much limits you to Air France. If you book train + plane on separate tickets, and the train is late, you're screwed. SNCF will only refund your TGV reservation, and the airline will treat you as a no-show.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      point to point versus hub and spoke

      Having spent 20 hours in O'Hare airport due to bad weather, cancelled and late flights (If the world ever needs an enema then O'Hare is were it will be applied) point to point any time, as long as its not ryanair.

      Re US immigration; I've never paid for priority boarding, but I'd pay for priority disembarking.

  10. Ryan Clark


    It would interesting to know who your bike manufacturer is, as most to of the line expensive bike frames are carbon. All the frames that the professionals are riding these days are all carbon tubes. Alu frames are very much last century. Weight and design options are great for bikes in carbon (no need to use straight, round tubes) which mean the manufacturers can have a product differentiator. Obviously stresses on bike frames are bit less than an airliner.

    1. An ominous cow herd

      Carbon fibre is so last tuesday for bike frames

      Titanium frames are the thing to have now!

      But will Airbus or Boeing make an airframe from Ti, or maybe just the rivets?

      At least it doesn't crack like c-fibre....

      1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

      2. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

        "At least it doesn't crack like c-fibre...."

        Quite right, it cracks like Titanium.

        The only aircraft to be made from titanium are the Mig25 and the SR71, I don't know about the Mig 25 but Lockheed don't know how long the SR71 airframe may last as it heat treats itself every time if files.

        1. Mike Powers

          The SR-71 doesn't fly

          and hasn't flown for the past thirty years. (The USAF never quite got over the fact that the CIA got a Mach 3 airplane before they did, and that the only Mach 3 airplane the USAF flew was a mod of the one the CIA had.)

  11. Christoph

    What's wrong with good old British engineering?

    Hold the thing together with sticky-back plastic.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not so far fetched

      I was an apprentice at the BAe factory at Hatfield back at the end of the 80's where we built the BAe 146 feederliner. I used to help out doing factory tours, and the one place we loved to take people was the area where we "glue the aircraft together".

      Hatfield had vast experience of the perils of rivets (Comet) and so they used a different method to fix longitudinal stringers to skin panels. This consisted of a kind of double sided sticky tape which was laid between the stringer and the skin, whole sections some up to 20ft x 12ft were laid up like this. The laid up sections were then put into a press at something like 200C and 20ATM pressure for a couple of hours for the glue to set.

      Included in each laid up section would be between 30 and 50 test sections which would be cut out and removed. Half of the test sections went into storage, the remainder were subjected to destructive peel and pull tests. Under the pull tests, the sections were able to hold something like 32 TONS per square inch.

    2. Silverburn

      Stick-backed plastic?

      pah, real engineers use duct tape. And their other tool is WD40.

      As the saying goes...

      If it should move and it doesn't use WD40. If moves and it shouldn't, use duct tape.

      I'm obviously a poor engineer, in that I also use a 3rd tool - a hammer. And swearing.

      1. Barry 8


        Hammer and swearing makes it 4 tools.

        1. Christoph

          Nobody expected that

          Our three tools are WD40, duct tape, a hammer, and swearing.

          Our four tools ...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            there are 3 reasons why nobody expects the aircraft engineers

            WD40, high-speed tape, a hammer, and swearing

            there are 4 reasons....

  12. Bassey
    Thumb Up


    Excellent article. These pieces are the main reason I read the Reg. Thanks very much.

  13. Dazed and Confused

    point to point for me

    As someone who used to suffer more than a reasonable amount of time stuck in a sardine tube, one knee inserted up each nostril. I've got to say that I always looked to fly directly. If you couldn't get there directly from Heathrow then it counted as third world. Gatwick, perhaps at a push. To me it was the main reason to live in the SE.

    Having to change planes is such a PITA.

    The other advantage of smaller planes is that for busy routes you end up with more flights so can choose more convenient times to travel. Hopefully everyone is different and so what is most convenient for me, might not be for someone else.

    In practice I think we'll end up with a mixture.

    1. dssf

      Why don't we do ConTrans?

      Connected Transfer?

      Fedex could deliver the luggage. The pax planes could have more restricted rules on carry on baggage.

      For ConTrans, a refuel-probe like chute would extend from below the sending plane and after connection to the receiving plane, passengers would take a "fun slide" into the receiver. If any carry-on bags ARE to be transferred, they could go on a separate chute ride, at the aft end of the plane.

      But, this could prove expensive to modify fleets of such a/c. If it were feasible, though, it could prove semi-devastating for the hub and spoke as it exists today. It still might work, though, with ferry planes acting as ConTrans planes. But, it might take out valuable space (assuming that the COnTrans idea relies on FULL feeder planes) as it would require two reinforced, tear-resistant pressurized zones (one for pax, one for bags and crew handlers of bags unless things were strictly laptop and purse bags and medications and diapers --- wait, we wouldn't transfer babies this way, would we?) in the event the transfer tube failed. Might involve the "misadventure" of a few pax from time to time, but if the altitudes are kept sanely low, and speeds to what is deemed safe, and pilots and computers mutually handling and monitoring the above/below (as opposed to any attempts at "alongside replenishment").

      Crazy? Maybe, but how crazy were nuclear and other types of airplanes.

      Come to think of it, hasn't this idea been posited before, say, decades ago?

  14. Confused Vorlon

    people prefer point to point - but won't pay much for it

    there - have I answered your first question?

    People are kinda stupid when assessing flights. Price comparison sites cause us to focus on the up-front price and encourage people to choose the cheapest.

    Meanwhile, ask any punter who is actually waiting for their flight if they'd like to pay £30 to cut four hours off the journey, and they'll buy it faster than you can say 'priority boarding'. Sadly they didn't think of this when making their actual booking.

    It's possible that the sites will start to steer people to 'better choices'; Opodo has started showing total journey time, and they could easily expand that concept by asking for my postcode, and estimating driving/parking time&cost in the whole thing (and suggesting where I might fly from on this basis rather than just asking me to specify at the outset)

    Conclusion: if point to point costs about the same, it'll win. If it is much more expensive, it'll lose.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not really related but

      Tthe same thing occurs with train journeys.

      My example is Norwich to Aberdeen - coincidentally both are linked with an air route patronised by the North Sea oil and gas fraternity.

      The majority of the train operator service combinations are effectively hubs at Peterborough and Edinburgh. The best combo is a single change at Peterborough because the matching Intercity service goes on through Edinburgh rather than having to change to a stop-at-every-station-type slower, less well appointed train.

      For me I have to balance between number of changeovers (less stress agonising over missed connections and shifting luggage around) and cost.

      Unfortunately the true point-point by plane us still more expensive than 8 hours on three different trains.

      I think I've rambled - I'm sure this post had a purpose when I started

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The most a failure of the latter can do is ruin one's crotch


    Unless said failure is whilst you are in a uk bicycle lane ie tailgated by a bus...

    1. Silverburn

      Bus lanes

      If you get tailgated by buses, you're not pedalling hard enough...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Im not in a hurry...and I'm certianly not doing it for exercise...Cycling can be for transport you know.

        anyway I dont know if youv'e been to Nottingham or Sheffield the hills are Long and go on for ages!

  16. Nigel 11

    Long-term ageing problems

    We didn't know about the long-term metal-fatigue problems with aluminium alloys, until Comet airliners started exploding in mid-flight. We didn't know about the effects of sea salt on them, until the open-top Hawaiian airliner incident. Rolls-Royce once almost got sunk as a company by committing to using carbon-fibre turbine blades in the ill-fated RB211, only to discover the fatigue problems once the things were almost in production. And so on. I can think of a number of similar examples in the history of IT. Even using well-understood materials, Alfa Romeo still managed to have a huge problem with a car whose engine fell out after only a few years.

    Manufacturers do of course do accelerated ageing tests, but they have to leave out the passage of real time.

    It's anyone's guess whether composites or Scandium alloy will be best for aircraft fuselages. And I'll be a little bit more nervous flying in either, since it'll take more than the rest of my years for these materials to be truly well-understood by the industry.

    1. Tim Worstal


      It's been a decade now since Airbus built a wing out of Al Sc. They're still heating and cooling it, spraying it with salt water, bending it etc....somewhere in a warehouse in Germany I believe it is.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I feel compelled to correct

      I'm sorry, but so much of your post is almost correct, but not quite that I feel compelled to correct them.

      1) Comet airliners failed far earlier than expected from mere metal-fatigue. The investigation found 3 specific factors that caused the problem. Square windows caused stress concentrations. The fixing methods for the windows used punch rivets instead of drilled rivets and glue which was originally planned. And most importantly, when testing the airframes they over-pressured the cabin which caused work hardening of the skin and increased the likelihood of brittle failure in the medium term.

      2) The open top Aloha flight was a result of corrosion caused from a failed epoxy adhesive. Also the aircraft had actually undergone more pressure cycles than it was designed for (over 89000 instead of the 75000 designed). Island hopping actually puts a lot of stress on aircraft, and there have been cases of things like undercarriage fires resulting from the brakes having too little time to cool on short trips between islands.

      3) You cannot have carbon fibre turbine blades - the temperatures are too hot. The RB211 was designed with a carbon fibre first stage compressor (or fan for a high bypass engine). The big problem with the carbon fibre first stage was having passed all other tests it shattered when a chicken was fired into it at high speed (a standard test for bird strike resistance on jet engines). They had a titanium backup design. The reason Rolls Royce got in financial trouble over the RB211 was more complex. Certainly the carbon fibre compressor blade was one issue, but much bigger issues was the fact that the RB211 was 3 spool with a very high bypass, and they struggled to meet the efficiency guarantees that they had made. Then when the engine went into use it was less reliable than they wanted, but this wasn't because of the blades, it was largely because of needing to meet the efficiency guarantees. In reality the reliability issues were resolved within a year or 2 of launch.

      In principle though I agree with your concerns about either welded planes or composites. Just remember though, that we do have a lot of experience of odd materials in military usage. For example, the Harrier GR5 has been flying since the mid 80s, and that had a lot of fibre in it.

  17. graeme leggett

    Are the technologies retroactively applicable?

    Eg can you take an existing design of aircraft - a Cessna say - and using the Scandium doped ally weld it rather than rivet it thereby lightening it and getting more performance or better fuel economy.

    And how difficult is it to replace a metal wing with a carbon fibre design one.


    1. SkippyBing

      You can do it, but you'll have to re-certify the design with the relevant authorities which can cost a lot. Realistically if you're going through all that effort you may as well design a new aircraft and take advantage of all the other technology that's come about since the Cessna 172 first flew.

      1. Robert E A Harvey

        All true, but how cool would it be if people built new Dakotas? And Ford Trimotors?

  18. haveAnIceDay

    Point to point

    Of course, people want to fly point to point. Who wants to do another flight after just having done a ten hour flight? As always, the deciding factor will be cost. How much cheaper than the point to point model is the hub/spoke model going to be, is what will decide the matter.

    1. Nigel 11
      Thumb Down

      Not so simple

      Point-to-point means more routes means less flights per route means less choice as to when you travel. You may prefer (say) a 10am departure and 8 hours travelling time, to a 7am departure and 6 hours travelling time.

      I've paid significant amounts extra in the past, to travel at a time convenient to myself. More generally there are certain flights that are always cheap as chips yet which get few takers. These are at horrible times of the day, which the airlines have to fly in order to position an airliner where the next flight is going to be full.

      Well, horrible for most people. I've saved money and had most of an extra day abroad by choosing to be back at Luton at 11.45pm. No bad traffic on the M25 at that time, so easier on the last leg!

  19. Major N


    It raised a smile to se my alma mater UMIST mentioned. T'was a sad day when it was merged into University of Manchester...

    Interesting to see the research going into these issues; I had no idea rivets accounted for so much of a plane's weight.

  20. Captain TickTock

    The bastards

    Nice little pop (rivet) at Boeing in the bootnote

  21. SuperTim

    What the passengers want.

    Is door to door service. Nobody wants to change planes 4 times to get where they are going.

  22. Drew V.

    It will be interesting to see how both carbon and scandium behave during the first major crashes. They've run all manner of tests, of course, but nothing completely substitutes for the real thing. Will the planes break up more or less easily, and will they break into more or fewer pieces?

    Granted, the answers may simply turn out to be that it's all exactly the same as with the old planes.

    1. SkippyBing

      It'd be interesting to see if airports are modifying their crash incident plans to deal with the increasing level of composites and man made fibres in aircraft.

      As an example when a Merlin helicopter crashed at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall they shut down the road that runs around the perimeter to ensure no one was likely to inhale any of the fibre dust. Plus I think carbon fibre and the like tend to splinter in a crash rather than undergoing plastic deformation like metal, which I can see causing a lot more secondary injuries and damage to rescue equipment.

      1. Drew V.


        Ah, well spotted. Thanks for the info.

    2. dssf
      IT Angle


      I was just wondering how a carbone fiber plane would behave if struck by lightning. I mean by hot tendrils of lightning. Would it be unaffected due to not being a metal, or would it gloop into a heavy meteoroid-like object, or would it expand like hot, stretched wires to fall lightly with seats, people, luggage, and plane parts enmeshed? Might make NTSB or similar agencies' investigations hairy.

    3. JohnG

      The Russians will have some data regarding the behaviour of Al-Sc airframes in crashes - Al-Sc has been used in both the MiG-21 and the MiG-29.

    4. Mike Powers

      NASA Langley's drop-test facility has been crashing carbon-fiber aircraft for a while now. They pretty much act just like aluminum ones.

  23. JeffyPooh

    The growing cost advantage of direct flights...

    The hub-and-spoke system incurs multiple take-off and landing fees at the most expensive (major hub) airports. Direct flights will have one take-off and one landing at cheaper airports.

    Same logic applies to fuel burn for multiple take-offs. Same logic applies to 'per leg' navigation fees. Etc. Etc. Etc.

    It could well turn-out that long & thin direct flights are actually cheaper than the hub-and-spoke system.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Many planes = less impact for breakdown

    Having a plethora of planes provides more redundancy. If one 240 passenger plane cannot fly due to problems, that screws fewer people than having one 900 passenger plane shut down. If you need a fleet of 40 planes, having 41 is not a big impact. If you have a fleet of 10 jumbos, having 11 jumbos represents a significant amount of cost for that redundancy. Then there is the load on the airports - having smaller aircraft arriving at more airports means a smoother load on the airport - less of the whoomph! now you wait 4 hours to get to the baggage check.

    I rarely fly for pleasure (just because dealing with the TSA is a grope in the rear, and flying coach involves squeezing my 6'3" self into a seat that realistically was built for a 5'5" person), but when I do, I try to select direct flights rather than hub and spoke (not easy, as while 40% of the planes flying may have had parts built in Wichita, none of them actually depart from here).

    Hub and spoke is only "efficient" in the sense that it efficiently fills large aircraft with passengers: it is NOT efficient in terms of getting me where I want to be quickly - IF I have to fly to a hub, and thence to my destination, any journey of less than about 400 miles and I can arrive faster by driving (more if you take into account not having to rent a car, get my luggage, etc.), And if there are any delays, that distance only increases.

    Obviously, I am biased in favor of Boeing - Airbus only employs about a hundred people here - but I still hope the idea of more, smaller planes rather than fewer, larger planes works outl

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @David D Hagood

      "If one 240 passenger plane cannot fly due to problems, that screws fewer people than having one 900 passenger plane shut down"

      Which translates as: "if one plane cannot fly due to problems then you have a plane load of people screwed up regardless of the size of the plane". The airport infrastructure should handle the passengers and you still need to source an equivalent plane regardless.

      "If you need a fleet of 40 planes, having 41 is not a big impact. If you have a fleet of 10 jumbos, having 11 jumbos represents a significant amount of cost for that redundancy."

      Redundant planes are far more expensive than non-redundant planes, and you still need to get it from where it is to where it needs to be, which is why out of service aircraft cause so many problems.

      The more planes you have the more chance you have that one becomes unserviceable - even accepting your "lesser impact" statement then it would still be very shitty.

      "Hub and spoke is only "efficient" in the sense that it efficiently fills large aircraft with passengers: it is NOT efficient in terms of getting me where I want to be quickly - IF I have to fly to a hub, and thence to my destination, any journey of less than about 400 miles and I can arrive faster by driving "

      Ah, the US-centric viewpoint. You want to try driving London to Bordeaux, or Manchester to Brussels or Rome to Cairo and we can talk about it afterwards.

      perhaps though, the reason Boeing are focussing on the point to point smaller aircraft market is because of two important reasons: (1) they already have a big hub and spoke ship [747] and (2) the A380 is bigger and better than the 747 anyways.

  25. KirstarK

    So the name of this bike manufacturer is ?

    I need a new bike,.

  26. Mondo the Magnificent
    Thumb Up

    Scandium vs Carbon

    I have a Scandium framed mountain bike, the box weighed more than the frame. I also have a carbon mountain bike too and both materials work well, The pinging sound of small stones flicked up from the tyres bouncing off Scandium is slightly more reassuring than the dull thud that the carbon frame makes when struck by small stones on the trail.

    From what I've read I believe these new "Dreamliner" class aircraft go beyond just weight reduction, fuel economy and appeasing the Green Movement

    I believe both materials have their merits, but Boeing's 787 carbon route will also allow the cabin to have more moisture, thus less dehydration for the passengers. Now I don't know how Scandium reacts to humidity, but humidity has always been the enemy of alloy skinned airlines, hence the horribly dry air we are forced to breathe when flying on traditionally designed airliners

    Could the author shed a little light on this?

    I think these are interesting times in the commercial airliner business and as someone who travels abroad via a 10 hour + long haul flight yearly, I would gladly pay the extra to be seated in an aircraft that would get me there a little quicker and not dry me out like a piece of beef jerky en route..

  27. lawndart


    I sort of like the Boeing solution. Direct flights point to point means only two chances for airport security to treat the fare paying passenger as if they were terrorist scum and pilfer their baggage.

  28. JimC

    Interesting to consider the supply issues...

    Aluminium is of course desperately energy intensive to produce, shouldn't be suprised if scandium is worse. On the other hand the carbon fibre/epoxy matrix is 100% oil derived too. I don't worship at the green shrine, but one should always consider materials availability and energy needs because it affects long term costs...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Interesting to consider the supply issues...

      I am reminded of this...

      "The United States still gets three-fifths of its aluminum from virgin ore, at twenty times the energy intensity of recycled aluminum, and throws away enough aluminum to replace its entire commercial aircraft fleet every three months."

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      i believe

      most of the worlds aluminium is produced in iceland (from imported ore) due to the ridiculously cheap geothermal electricity.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "most of the worlds aluminium is produced in iceland"

        The aluminium industry just goes where the cheapest power is, typically where the government in question can be bamboozled into footing the infrastructure bill. The Icelanders will probably be paying down that debt for a long time after Alcoa have moved on to somewhere else with nice subsidies. Meanwhile, Americans will still be throwing aluminium in the trash, I'm sure.

  29. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    Me likey

    A REG article on science/engineering just because.

    As a physicist by education and an ex-airline employee it floats my boat that way too.

    Ps whose the bike manufacturer? Not that it's likely to persuade me for Al over nicely butted and flexible Steel.

    Suspension is for wimps when you have a mid-high end steel frame (and you are not a porker).

    1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  30. Def Silver badge

    Hubs Schmubs

    When I travel, I want to fly as quickly as possible on as few planes as possible. Not have to spend the early hours of the morning hanging around a fugly airport in never ending queues. Not sit on the ground for half an hour in a midget sized seat with no leg room while the fat fucker in the seventh row dicks around trying to stuff her over sized carry-on into a space that a small bag of peanuts would find uncomfortably tight. And finally not be confined to said seat for umpteen hours while heavily made up stewardesses with fake smiles try in vain to sell me stale sandwiches and over-priced beverages.

    I don't have a solution - my careers advisor hadn't heard about those, so I got a day job instead. It's so much fun. Honest.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > while heavily made up stewardesses with fake smiles try in vain to sell me stale sandwiches and over-priced beverages.

      So, don't fly United :)

    2. Solomon Grundy

      Seat Size

      Sure, the seat sizes in the new planes are a bit better now, but after a few years they'll cram a few more in there. The declining size of the usable commercial passenger aircraft fleet guarantees that they'll try to cram more "self loading cargo" in to the craft after a while. Why do you think the seats are on rails? It's built right into all planes, even the brand new ones.

      1. Nigel 11
        Thumb Down

        Cram more in?

        Physics says they won't / can't.

        As soon as the fuselage gets big enough to have two decks you *have* to give each passenger about twice the area compared to a single-decker plane. You can't pack in twice as many passengers, because the plane couldn't then get off the ground. And even with a single deck there will be more space per passenger in a big jet than a small one. I don't think that wing lift scales up as length squared, whereas passenger deck area does (for the same shaped fuselage).

        Of course a lighter plane does mean they'll be able to cram more passengers into it. Sigh.

        1. Solomon Grundy

          Sales Says They Will

          Like I said in my original post, the initial aircraft designs last for decades and take into account future needs. As history as shown carriers will always try to get more passengers onto the existing craft by pushing the seats closer together. Commercial aircraft are over designed and built with the assumption that propulsion will improve. That's why none of the planes you have been on crashed when they were terribly overloaded compared to their initial specs.

  31. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    why dont they

    go for friction stir welds on the aluminium parts

    Nasa had a good line in that sort of tech when it was used on shuttle fuel tanks, I think spacex also use it on their rockets too

    1. Tim Worstal

      Exactly that

      For friction stir welds you need either to add lithium to the aluminium (difficult to do) or scandium. NASA was using Li. It's these small changes to the alloys which are exactly what allows you to do friction stir welding.

  32. <user />

    I am fed up of hearing people compare the 787 to the A380 - different aircraft for different markets, why cannot the media in general not grasp this? Not knocking EI Reg by the way here.

    Of course point to point is the future, its a big no brainer. One of the reasons LCC make such a fortune and are largely very successful is they allow people to travel direct, using smaller aircraft, more frequently.

    The A380 is suited to a hand full of very high density routes only, as mentioned in the article, London - NYC for example.

  33. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    It's the Asians - stupid

    The whole argeument about whether hubs vs direct in the US makes most sense is rather irrelevent. The lifeof these planesis50years, in 50years the US is not going to be the big market for flights.

    The biggest use of 747s at the moment is in flying city-city in Japan. Soon it will be flying city-city in China. If you have 1.4Bn people to move around then you need some thing a bit bigger than a 737 for your local Ryanair.

    It's also why the 380 is certified to evacuate more people than can currently fit in it. Japanese internal flights use a special seat configuration called something like Asian economy mode = don't try and sit down if you are more than 5' 6"

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Dubai in particular

      It seems you can fly to anywhere in the world in an A380 from Dubai. That offers pretty compelling economics for the hub & spoke system for the majority of long haul flights. Some wag has also coined "pilgrim class", standing room only, for stripped down A380s bringing the masses to Mecca for the Haj or to Europe for a football match.

      Point to point connections between second tier airports still have a part to play which is why Airbus is playing catch up on the Dreamliner just like Boeing is planning a composite version of the 747 to match Airbus.

      Back to the technology - additive seems to be the future with Airbus investing in those Bristol boffins who've already made a bike frame. Mix of materials always required as you want to blend stiffness with elasticity. For my money steel alloys still provide the best ride though the bamboo bike sounds worth a try.

      @Mr Worstall - the sham French spelling behoves you not and worse than that adds nothing to the article. Airbus is a truly global company and you even refer to the a wing under test somewhere Germany. Save the Euro-bashing for the Torygraph.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @<user />

    The point is not comparing the A380 to the 787, it is comparing the concept of high volume, low cost hub to hub versus low volume high cost point to point. The respective planes are simply the est way of achieving the respective concept at the moment.

    Point to point is the ideal, but not the guaranteed future. Obviously there is the cost per person per flight, then there is the cost of upgrading the infrastructure at spoke airports to meet increased flight requirements. Not to mention the efficiency of larger planes, which also equates to environmental impact. Finally, you may not be over chuffed with increased spoke based flights if it means your sleep is affected by 787s coming and going day and night.

    It also depends on where you live. I suspect that in the US the situation is lots of international class airports with few international flights (just a guess though). However for those of us in Europe it is not so much like that:

  35. Jerry

    Compression strength?

    Typical aircraft alloys have high to very high compression / tension strengths. Look at 500 to 600 MPa

    Welding tends to screw this up - without post heat treating.

    Putting a fraction of Scandium in isn't going goint to chage this patterm much. Whatever occurs a post heat-treat is required. This is standard for bicycle frames using 6061-T6 or 7000 series alloys.

    Imagine heat-treating an entire wing or airframe?

    1. JimC

      Unless Boeing are doing something very unusual

      They will be post curing, which amounts to heat treating, the completed carbon structures, so they'll have the same problem.

  36. Sir Lancelot

    Wait a minute...

    A few comments:

    1) The 787 has a reduced number of rivets. It is certainly not without rivets.

    2) Generalizing point-to-point flying would require a major redesign of the mechanisms and procedures used to route airplanes. This will not happen overnight since most of that routing is today done on basis over airways typically linking airports, VOR and NDB radio stations. Anyone that has dealt with organisations such as Eurocontrol (or the FAA across the pond) will understand it will take a lot of time to redesign this system. Remember the talks about a Single European Sky?

  37. Torben Mogensen

    Supply and demand

    Expensive as Scandium is today, I can imagine it will increase in price if more companies use it. Especially in the quantities needed for aircraft. So now might be a time to buy as much as you can afford at present market prices and sell it later, when the price goes through the roof.

    How much this will affect its viability for aircraft building is hard to say. Raw material cost is probably not the major cost of modern aircraft.

    1. Tim Worstal

      Weirdly, no

      Sc is used in such small quantities (perhaps 10 tonnes a year globally) that it's still priced as a cottage industry product. If usage rises then someone (hopefully me) is going to industrialise production.

      Sounds odd but rising demand could lead to a fall in price.

      If anyone's got a spare $30 million I've a factory to build.......

  38. Mr Young
    Thumb Up


    It's enjoyable to read about innovation in these troubled times. The A380 wins for me I guess - just seeing something that size in the air is amazing!

  39. Solomon Grundy

    The Hub Model

    is total crap for those of us that have to fly on a regular basis. I fly from Washington D.C. to the San Fransisco area at least three times a month, every month; for 3+ years now. Every single stop/transfer exponentially increases the chances of some sort of failure: Meaning I'm late for my meeting and that requires shifting many peoples schedules around, cancelling other meetings, getting a different hotel room and tons of other direct and indirect problems along with their associated costs (not just to me).

    The hub model is fine for those who only fly occasionally (airports can even be fun if you aren't on a schedule and have some money to blow) but for people who have to travel on a schedule the point-to-point model is the only way. I'm not flying because I want to and I'm not going on vacation; it is work. There are so many people that I've met on a recurring basis on planes through the years; I can't believe there isn't a decent market for direct flights that don't require crazy scheduling yoga. Especially when the product (airplane) in question has a 50+ year lifespan for the airlines. Each plane is a long term investment and should be viewed as such.

    I foresee a mix of both options from major hubs with increased flight-time options for all customers: "If you're willing to pay we can put you on a direct flight right now" as normal course of business vs. "oh. We have to send you to Cincinnati and Seattle if you want to fly anytime in the next week".

    1. dssf

      US$350 extra for the hubless Bikram Flight Option


      - betelnuts vice peanuts,

      - padded flooring vice seats

      - Sifu of the week

      - incense, potatoes, alu gohbi, curry, garlic and plain na'an, bells, and moodlighting also at no extra charge

      - live neck, hip, and previously-sanitized toes massage add $25

      End-point Zen Center You'll need at the destination to compensate for the extra pricing not included.

      - Carbon Tube bike articulated racing with simulated high-altitude effects stations with video terrain $220 extra

      (I might pay for such a flight -- but if it is about $80 extra, not $350

  40. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    "I fly from Washington D.C. to the San Fransisco area at least three times a month, every month; for 3+ years now."

    Surely that sends you through Reagan National, supposedly one of the fastest airports in the world for getting people through (all those Senators and Con-gress people can't be kept waiting on some security nonsense).

    There is no direct DC/SF flight?

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hub/spoke vs Point to Point. And materials...

    It all goes down to ATC. Europe is today an Air Traffic Control nightmare as a whole, with planes crossing 5 or 6 controlling agencies (or so I heard), so having fewer planes crossing that was in the back of more than a few minds when the A380 was conceived.

    However, in USA, the nightmare was the ATC around the great hubs, with great empty spaces between them. If the planes could avoid altogether the hubs, it would mean fewer delays. Spreading out would solve a slew of problems there, another POV that Boeing noticed.

    Of course passengers prefer point to point. I know I do. But if the large planes achieve any sort of economy of scale and become cheaper overall, then they are justified.

    The point becomes then, whether companies would make available all the odd destinations at all times, and would there be passengers to fill them up. I heard that even smaller planes (Fokker 100 size, 100-ish ppl onboard.) need to be more than 90% full to achieve any profit. Finding 100-200 people at once that wish to go from Buenos Aires to Madri isn't exactly a profitable proposal on a regular basis. That's why overbooking was invented, and banned.

    Sorry did I say Fokker 100 fits 100 people? I don't know. It could be just 50, I'm making a point here.

    As for the materials... the most interesting airplanes of WWII were made of wood or mostly canvas, like the Mosquito, or the (underdog? under-appreciated?) Hurricane. Who knows what else they will come up next. I just know that a Carbon Fibre plane wouldn't agree with thunder and lighting without some sort of conductive lining, while aluminum-any-alloy doesn't have that problem. Yes, most of the issues are related to weight and strength, but not just that is important in the long run, sometimes you require some ease of maintenance too.

    1. Andrew 59


      But would lightning be any issue if they're flying above the clouds? And if they're below the clouds, why does it have to conduct? I'm not being obtuse (at least not deliberately) but surely the carbon skin is an insulator so the lightning would find another route to ground... Which the plane is nowhere near when it's X thousand feet in the air.

      Icon, just in case I'm wrong ;)

  42. blamblamblam

    The most innovative airliner "since the Comet"? Yikes...

    Well said -- Flight International last week printed a "Free Magazine" which was a puff piece for the 787. One of their breathless statements about the 787 was that it was the most innovative airliner "since the Comet". Given the fate of the Comet, I regard that as a rather worrying parallel.

  43. brainwrong


    "The most a failure of the latter (bicycle) can do is ruin one's crotch or day"

    That's complete bollocks, as has already been mentioned elsewhere.

    Anyone using an aluminium bicycle frame is nuts, and should be forced to take physics lessons to understand why. Steel only suffers metal fatigue when it is flexed more than a minimum amount, aluminium suffers metal fatigue when flexed by *any* amount. This was found out the hard way, when early alu aircraft fell out of the skies.

    Aluminium is used for aircraft because weight is critical for performance and viability. Aircraft get lots of R&D to minimise the problems of aluminium, and regular thorough examinations to pick up the majority(*) of problems that still exist.

    I doubt the same could be said for most bicycle frames.

    (*) not all, i remember only this year a plane had a hole rip out of the fuselage skin, above the luggage racks IIRC. I don't think anybody was sucked out and torn limb from limb.

    1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge


        but a headstock through the sternum puts a dint in your day though.

  44. Sheherazade


    Hub-and-spoke is the model of all those companies moving goods around the world. It is not fast, but it is efficient, even if it might need as much as 5 segments combined to move a parcel from point A to point B. If I wanted faster service (airmail, fewer segments), I have to pay much more, but this is not the usual case. I guess it is the same with moving people around. And there are still many routes that will never go point to point, regardless the price, because of poor demand.

  45. Mage Silver badge


    Can't Airbus also make a Dreamliner sized plane of Scandium -Aluminium alloy? But can Boeing make an an A380 size composite?

  46. Stu 18

    landing fees

    Not sure what it is like in other countries, but our airports are little monopolies that charge passengers for upgrading buildings, then revalue them at a higher price and then charge passengers more to land there. Another reason hub to hub sucks!

  47. Mips

    Loosing the rivet the other reason.

    You did not mention the need for replacement of rivets on time expired airframes, a major maintenance cost. On the other hand how do you handle checks on a welded airframe. NDT is ok, but any repairs!

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ah. the international consortium to the rescue!

    Airbus-the best aircraft taxpayer funds can design. And if it doesn't fit any airport in the world, a few more taxes to another consortium branch to rebuild infrastructure to make it fit..

    Too bad there's no kickback of the profits made though. But that was never the purpose of the EU, was it?

  49. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    @The Hub Model

    You can already do point-point internal flights in the US and you do them with 737s or Canadair/Embraer commuter jets, the only reason for a 7e7 is to do long range international point-point.

    It's not clear if there is a market for weekly flights from the US's 6th largest city to China's 6th largest. And even if there was it's not clear that the US will cope with huge increase in international airports, when every little commuter spoke needs international customs, TSA, immigration etc.

    The real market for these aircraft might end up being long haul - avoiding the US - flights. The 7E7 can do south america to europe or S.E asia comfortably without passengers having to experience a trip through US immigration and security (the US doesn't allow transit - so you need a visa to change planes there)

  50. JeffyPooh

    10% rivets?

    10% rivets by mass? No way. Impossibly high. Especially if considering fully loaded with fuel and payload (the only time it makes sense to discuss mass).

    I doubt it's even 1% rivets by weight.

    I'm standing by to be shown to be incorrect...

  51. Francis Boyle Silver badge

    If airliners and bikes are made of the same materials

    does that mean we'll see Airbus investing in bamboo plantations in the near future?

  52. Alan Firminger

    We have been here before, on both issues, with the de Haviland Comet

    The Comet skin was glued to the skeleton. No rivets didn't catch on, despite being innocent of causing the Comet 1 disasters.

    The Comet 2 came into use at about the same time as the Boeing 707. As the Comet carried half the number of passengers than the 707 there was a lot of chatter about the advantages of point to point over hub to hub. The 707 sorted that out pretty quickly.

    Ah memories! I went to Melbourne in a Comet, flying 1000 mile legs. At a refueling stop in the jungle they ushered us to tables for refreshment. The packs of sugar were labeled "Untouched by human hand."

  53. Majid

    Still as an european it hurts me to say that boeing has done the right thing.

    Carbon or not that does not matter. What matters is that they have read the market better. Local small airports are booming, while the big ones are losing bussiness quick. Why?

    People just like to travel from their small town to their destination, not first travel by train or by car or airplane, to another city then take a big plane, just to land close to where they want to be, and then take another bus, train, car or airplane to the final destination.

  54. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Depends on the welding process used.

    Friction Stir Welding (FSW) does not actually *melt* the metal, so the join retains near parent properties regarding its crystal structure and composition ("weld efficiency" near 100%).

    Hence it's being adopted by the rail car and ship building industries who don't like splashing the cash on developing new alloys.

    However AFAIK Airbus uses laser (and sometimes electron beam) welding with the usual issues of welds being *substantially* weaker than parent metal (possibly compounded if you need to re-weld). It's no accident that the areas where a weld will happen are often called "doublers" due to the increase in thickness to compensate for weld properties.

    Both methods have *very* narrow heat affected zones (HAZ) which seems to help and allow a narrower "transition" section between the weld and the normal fuselage thickness moving at right angles to the weld itself. With 100s of metres of weld that mass (and the fuel it will consume being hauled around the skies for 30+ years) starts to add up.

    BTW FSW was developed by TWI in the UK. Their old name of "The Welding Institute" suggests where their expertise originates but they have also been active in the development work of diffusion bonding and their NASA connection dates (at least) from helping on the development of tiles for the Shuttle.

    I've always wondered if the idea for FWS was inspired by some horrendous bit of DIY on the part of one of the researchers, as it seems such a strange notion to have otherwise.

    However NASA developed the special (patented) tools which allow you to do *closed* hoop welds (more or less from 1 side) which is handy for circular tanks, pressure vessels and airplane fuselages, like one of the smaller US biz jets.

    The former soviet union was quite active in the arc welding of planes. They found it gave a smoother surface (not sure how well they handled repairs). I think they tended to be supersonic and used steel due to the heat, so made a virtue out of necessity.

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