Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Official blog of the Lehigh University Chemical Engineers

Missing Malaysia Airlines jet

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On Saturday March 8th, a Malaysian Airline jet carrying 239 passengers went missing. The plane was scheduled to go from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and it had lost contact with air traffic control after 40 minutes since the takeoff. The airplane is believed to crash into the sea between Vietnam and Malaysia. The lack of distress call from the plane suggests that something very sudden happened, leaving the pilots with no time to response. One of the possible scenario is the catastrophic structural failure of the airframe of the plane Boeing 777. However, Boeing 777 is well regarded as one of the safest plane and it has one of the best safety records in aviation history. Since corrosion is possible although unlikely due to the plane’s long history and impressive safety record, it is worth five minutes to take a look at.

Most aircraft are made of Aluminum which is susceptible to corrosion over time, especially in areas of high humidity. However, corrosion can be minimized by use of corrosion resistant metals and finishes. One of the standard materials used in manufacturing airframe structures is high strength Aluminum alloy sheet coated with a pure Aluminum coating, which is highly resistant to corrosive attack. But under areas of high humidity and the presense of airborne salts, pitting or indentation of the airframe might occur. 

Once the Aluminum surface coating is broken, the high strength Aluminum underneath became exposed and is susceptible to rapid deterioration. One of the top candidate in ariframe structure is Aluminum alloys. Both Alumimum and its alloys resist corrosion in nonmarine areas. In areas, where airborne salts and industrial pollutants are present, they would require some sort of protection. General surface corrosion occurs slowly but can snowball under high humidity circumstances.

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Author: Jerry Jin

Hello, My name is Jerry Jin. I'm a senior at Lehigh University pursuing a degree in Chemical Engineering. I'm from Allentown, PA, but I was born in Shanghai, China. I moved here when I was fourteen years old. I'm currently the secretary for Southeast Asia at Lehigh Club, and treasurer for SASE. I'm also on the Lehigh Ultimate Frisbee Team and I enjoy being spontaneous.

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