Typical Repairs for Aircraft Structures (Part 2)

Longeron Repair

Generally, longerons are comparatively heavy members that serve approximately the same function as stringers. Consequently, longeron repair is similar to stringer repair. Because the longeron is a heavy member and more strength is needed than with a stringer, heavy rivets are used in the repair. Sometimes bolts are used to install a longeron repair, due to the need for greater accuracy, they are not as suitable as rivets. Also, bolts require more time for installation.

If the longeron consists of a formed section and an extruded angle section, consider each section separately. A longeron repair is similar to a stringer repair, but keep the rivet pitch between 4 and 6 rivet diameters. If bolts are used, drill the bolt holes for a light drive fit.

Spar Repair

The spar is the main supporting member of the wing. Other components may also have supporting members called spars that serve the same function as the spar does in the wing. Think of spars as the hub, or base, of the section in which they are located, even though they are not in the center. The spar is usually the first member located during the construction of the section, and the other components are fastened directly or indirectly to it. Because of the load the spar carries, it is very important that particular care be taken when repairing this member to ensure the original strength of the structure is not impaired. The spar is constructed so that two general classes of repairs, web repairs and cap strip repairs, are usually necessary.

Figure 1 and 2 are examples of typical spar repairs. The damage to the spar web can be repaired with a round or rectangular doubler. Damage smaller than 1-inch is typically repaired with a round doubler and larger damage is repaired with a rectangular doubler.
  1. Remove the damage and radius all corners to 0.5-inch.
  2. Fabricate doubler; use same material and thickness. The doubler size depends on edge distance (minimum of 2D) and rivet spacing (4-6D).
  3. Drill through the doubler and the original skin and secure doubler with Clecos.
  4. Install rivets.
Aircraft metal structures repair
Figure 1. Wing spar repair

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Figure 2. Wing spar repair

Rib and Web Repair

Web repairs can be classified into two types:
  1. Those made to web sections considered critical, such as those in the wing ribs.
  2. Those considered less critical, such as those in elevators, rudders, flaps, and the like.

Web sections must be repaired in such a way that the original strength of the member is restored. In the construction of a member using a web, the web member is usually a light gauge aluminum alloy sheet forming the principal depth of the member. The web is bounded by heavy aluminum alloy extrusions known as cap strips. These extrusions carry the loads caused by bending and also provide a foundation for attaching the skin. The web may be stiffened by stamped beads, formed angles, or extruded sections riveted at regular intervals along the web.

The stamped beads are a part of the web itself and are stamped in when the web is made. Stiffeners help to withstand the compressive loads exerted upon the critically stressed web members. Often, ribs are formed by stamping the entire piece from sheet stock. That is, the rib lacks a cap strip, but does have a flange around the entire piece, plus lightening holes in the web of the rib. Ribs may be formed with stamped beads for stiffeners, or they may have extruded angles riveted on the web for stiffeners.

Most damages involve two or more members, but only one member may be damaged and need repairing. Generally, if the web is damaged, cleaning out the damaged area and installing a patch plate are all that is required.

The patch plate should be of sufficient size to ensure room for at least two rows of rivets around the perimeter of the damage that includes proper edge distance, pitch, and transverse pitch for the rivets. The patch plate should be of material having the same thickness and composition as the original member. If any forming is necessary when making the patch plate, such as fitting the contour of a lightening hole, use material in the “0” condition and then heat treat it after forming.

Damage to ribs and webs, that require a repair larger than a simple plate, probably needs a patch plate, splice plates, or angles and an insertion. [Figure 3]

Aircraft metal structures repair
Figure 3. Wing rib repair

Leading Edge Repair

The leading edge is the front section of a wing, stabilizer, or other airfoil. The purpose of the leading edge is to streamline the forward section of the wings or control surfaces to ensure effective airflow. The space within the leading edge is sometimes used to store fuel. This space may also house extra equipment, such as landing lights, plumbing lines, or thermal anti-icing systems.

The construction of the leading edge section varies with the type of aircraft. Generally, it consists of cap strips, nose ribs, stringers, and skin. The cap strips are the main lengthwise extrusions, and they stiffen the leading edges and furnish a base for the nose ribs and skin. They also fasten the leading edge to the front spar.

The nose ribs are stamped from aluminum alloy sheet or machined parts. These ribs are U-shaped and may have their web sections stiffened. Regardless of their design, their purpose is to give contour to the leading edge. Stiffeners are used to stiffen the leading edge and supply a base for fastening the nose skin. When fastening the nose skin, use only flush rivets.

Leading edges constructed with thermal anti-icing systems consist of two layers of skin separated by a thin air space. The inner skin, sometimes corrugated for strength, is perforated to conduct the hot air to the nose skin for anti-icing purposes. Damage can be caused by contact with other objects, namely, pebbles, birds, and hail. However, the major cause of damage is carelessness while the aircraft is on the ground.

A damaged leading edge usually involves several structural parts. FOD probably involves the nose skin, nose ribs, stringers, and possibly the cap strip. Damage involving all of these members necessitates installing an access door to make the repair possible. First, the damaged area has to be removed and repair procedures established. The repair needs insertions and splice pieces. If the damage is serious enough, it may require repair of the cap strip and stringer, a new nose rib, and a skin panel. When repairing a leading edge, follow the procedures prescribed in the appropriate repair manual for this type of repair. [Figure 4] Repairs to leading edges are more difficult to accomplish than repairs to flat and straight structures because the repair parts need to be formed to fit the existing structure.

Aircraft metal structures repair
Figure 4. Leading edge repair

Trailing Edge Repair

A trailing edge is the rearmost part of an airfoil found on the wings, ailerons, rudders, elevators, and stabilizers. It is usually a metal strip that forms the shape of the edge by tying the ends of a rib section together and joining the upper and lower skins. Trailing edges are not structural members, but they are considered to be highly stressed in all cases.

Damage to a trailing edge may be limited to one point or extended over the entire length between two or more rib sections. Besides damage resulting from collision and careless handling, corrosion damage is often present. Trailing edges are particularly subject to corrosion because moisture collects or is trapped in them.

Thoroughly inspect the damaged area before starting repairs, and determine the extent of damage, the type of repair required, and the manner in which the repair should be performed. When making trailing edge repairs, remember that the repaired area must have the same contour and be made of material with the same composition and temper as the original section. The repair must also be made to retain the design characteristics of the airfoil. [Figure 5]

Aircraft metal structures repair
Figure 5. Trailing edge repair

Specialized Repairs

Figures 6 through 10 are examples of repairs for various structural members. Specific dimensions are not included since the illustrations are intended to present the basic design philosophy of general repairs rather than be used as repair guidelines for actual structures. Remember to consult the SRM for specific aircraft to obtain the maximum allowable damage that may be repaired and the suggested method for accomplishing the repair.

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Figure 6. C-channel repair

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Figure 7. Primary Z-section repair

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Figure 8. U-channel repair

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Figure 9. Channel repair by patching

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Figure 10. Channel repair by insertion

Inspection Openings

If it is permitted by the applicable aircraft maintenance manual, installation of a flush access door for inspection purposes sometimes makes it easier to repair the internal structure as well as damage to the skin in certain areas. This installation consists of a doubler and a stressed cover plate. A single row of nut plates is riveted to the doubler, and the doubler is riveted to the skin with two staggered rows of rivets. [Figure 11] The cover plate is then attached to the doubler with machine screws.

Aircraft metal structures repair
Figure 11. Inspection hole

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