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Can fatigue in materials cause aircraft failure?

Airplanes are responsible for safely transporting you and your family through the air and to your destination.  As planes travel over time, however, different stresses and pressure can cause the composite structures to crack or fatigue. In fact, fatigue cracks are one of the most common causes of structural failure in airplanes. If an airplane is not properly inspected and maintained, structure fatigue can cause serious problems, including accidents, injuries and even death of innocent passengers.

According to the Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at the University of Texas at Austin, fatigue can first be noticed when a crack is detected. These stress cracks can be caused by defects in the material or design flaws, and if not caught in the early stages, they may grow to become a serious problem. The fatigue cracks will continue to worsen until suddenly, a rupture or system failure will occur. This occurs when the crack gets too big for the material to withhold the stress and pressure.

Engineers and researchers are consistently studying the properties of metals used to build aircraft and are coming up with ways to minimize fatigue cracks. Some of the factors that lead to fatigue include the temperature, surface finish, the microstructure of the material, environment, how frequently the aircraft is loaded, corrosion and residual stress. Fatigue can also be caused by defects in the material, as well as in material that has had a large load pushing on a point of material for a long period of time, causing deformation or material fracture. Airplane passengers put their trust in those who design, build, maintain and inspect the aircraft they travel on.

This information is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice.

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