Redefining the performance of aircraft wing spars

Whether your spars are constructed of fiberglass or carbon roving you must take a serious look at this new miracle structural material.  It's more than six times stronger than  2024-T3 aluminum, twice as stiff and nearly half its weight. Compare this remarkable carbon rod with wet lay-up carbon roving; it's nearly 3-1/2 times stronger in tension and 5-1/2 times as strong in compression.

It's the most exciting material to hit the aerospace  market since the introduction of fiberglass. Under the trade name of Graphlite™, this material is cost effective and consistent in properties. You can build wing spars faster with much greater reliability. Fabricated in one operation in a female mold, it cuts assembly time in half. Another benefit of a female mold is that the outside dimensions are always consistent.

The current problem  with wet hand lay-up carbon roving is that you cannot lay all the filaments down straight and/or achieve a consistent resin content. In addition, air bubbles invariably develop. Trying to push them out ends up disturbing the filament alignment. As a result, your laminate strength has a lot of localized strength deficiencies.

Here is how this problem was solved. A new, highly modified pultrusion process forms a round or rectangular carbon rod in a machine which lies in all filaments straight, parallel and under equal tension. Resin content is closely controlled to +/- one percent. Maximum performance is obtained in every fiber resulting in tensile strengths exceeding 300,000 psi and 200,000  psi compressive strengths, far above the nearest contender. Coupon testing has shown consistent strength values with very small scatter. Modulus of elasticity is 21 million.

The Graphlite™ carbon rods are rolled off a spool, cut to length and laid into a female wing  spar mold and embedded in an unfilled epoxy resin matrix. The rod ends  are cut off square with a Dremel cut off wheel or a cable cutter. The rods do not require cleaning or sanding to improve bond strength. Rather than weaving glass fabric through the rod pack we let the epoxy matrix  carry all the shear loads. This is similar to steel reinforcing rod set in concrete for structural beams or roadways. 


The Carbon Genesis Sport Sailplane

The Genesis sailplane was the first aircraft to use the Graphlite™ carbon rod. The Genesis is a 15 meter (49.2 ft) 1,200 lb gross weight aircraft. Extensive dynamic cyclic testing was also performed on the spar center section. Over 20,000 cycles in positive and negative loading, many above the design limit, failed to show any visual sign of rod failure or separation from the  binding matrix. Static testing of a completed wing ended when the test  fixture failed at 19g.

The  prototype Genesis had a hand lay up spar of carbon roving. The spar weight was 38 lbs. The production Genesis with the Graphlite™ rod  spar weighed only 25 lbs but was twice as strong. A third generation spar of Graphlite™ for the Genesis would weighed less than 20 lbs and be of equal strength. Just for the record, an equivalent aluminum spar would weigh 65 lbs and be only half as strong. The stickler here is deflection. Because so little carbon rod is required and the material is  so strong the beam just keeps bending as the load is increased. Don't  let the high modulus fool you. The modulus of elasticity of Graphlite™ (21 mil) is twice that of aluminum (10.5 mil). If you are building a short thick wing, the deflection is probably not a problem. However, some wings are long and thin. By doubling the number of rods in the cap, the deflection is cut in half. Despite the added cap weight, you are still way ahead in total weight and cost savings.

Some  builders want to mix the rod into an existing wood spar. Yes, you can do  this. It's not as weight efficient as an all carbon spar but the little  weight added is far offset by the strength gained. You need not  scuff the surface of the rod prior to bonding. In fact, no surface preparation is required. Most pultruded rod has oil added to the resin to assure smooth flow through the heated dies. The Graphlite™ manufacturing process does not require any foreign matter to  be mixed into the resin or injected into the die during the manufacturing cycle. The matrix, or binder, of the carbon fibers is "BIS  F" Epoxy. Remember, epoxy likes to bond itself to epoxy.

For  current pricing and shipping cost of this 'Black Magic' material, please feel free to contact us.

Need Practical Composite Applications for Aircraft Designers and Builders?

Over 90 pages of detailed, technical information and workshop instruction based on

Jim Marske's extensive experience working with composites.