Aircraft repair and fabrication of structural components and high temperature components like exhaust systems and ducting components often calls for NADCAP approved welding.
A fuel gas such as acetylene or hydrogen is mixed inside a welding torch with oxygen to produce a flame with a temperature of around 6,300 degrees F. (3,482 degrees C). This flame is used to melt the materials to be welded. A filler rod is melted into the puddle of molten metal to reinforce the weld. When highly-reactive metals such as aluminum are gas welded, they must be covered with flux to exclude oxygen from the molten metal and keep oxides from forming which would decrease the strength of the weld.
Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW).
This method is the most familiar and common type and is known in the trade as stick welding. A metal wire rod coated with a welding flux is clamped in an electrode holder connected to the power supply with a heavy electrical cable. The metal to be welded is also attached to the power supply. The electrical power is supplied to the work at a low voltage and high current and may be either AC or DC, depending upon the type of welding being done. An arc is struck between the rod and the work and produces heat in excess of 10,000 °F, which melts both the material and the rod. As the flux melts, it releases an inert gas which shields the molten puddle from oxygen in the air and prevents oxidation. The molten flux covers the weld and hardens to an airtight slag cover that protects the weld bead as it cools. This slag must be chipped off to examine the weld.
Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW).
This method of welding was formerly called Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welding and is an improvement over stick welding because an uncoated wire electrode is fed into the torch and an inert gas such as argon, helium, or carbon dioxide flows out around the wire to protect the puddle from oxygen. The power supply connects between the torch and the work, and the arc produces the intense heat needed to melt the work and the electrode. Low-voltage highcurrent DC is used almost exclusively with GMAW welding. GMAW is used more for large-volume production work than for aircraft repair.
Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW).
This is the form of electric arc welding that fills most of the needs in aircraft maintenance. It is more commonly known as Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) welding and by the trade names of Heliarc or Heliweld. These trade names were derived from the fact that the inert gas originally used was helium.
Rather than using a consumable electrode such as is used in both of the other two methods we have discussed, the electrode in TIG welding is a tungsten rod. (In earlier procedures using this form of welding, a carbon electrode was used, but it has been replaced almost exclusively with tungsten.)
The 250+ amp arc between the electrode and the work melts the metal at 5,432 degrees F, and a filler rod is manually fed into the molten puddle. A stream of inert gas such as argon or helium flows out of the torch and envelopes the arc, thereby preventing the formation of oxides in the puddle.
The versatility of TIG welding is increased by the power supply that is used. Direct current of either polarity or alternating current may be used.
For aerospace welding, many thin sheet metal parts for aircraft, especially stainless steel parts, are joined by one of the forms of electric resistance welding, either spot welding or seam welding.
a. Spot Welding. Two copper electrodes are held in the jaws of the spot welding machine. and the material to be welded is clamped between them. Pressure is applied to hold the electrodes tightly together, and electrical current flows through the electrodes and the material. The resistance of the material being welded is so much higher than that of the copper electrodes that enough heat is generated to melt the metal. The pressure on the electrodes forces the molten spots in the two pieces of metal to unite, and this pressure is held after the current stops flowing long enough for the metal to solidify. Refer to MIL HDBK-5 for joint construction and strength data. The amount of current, pressure, and dwell time are all carefully controlled and matched to the type of material and the thickness to produce the correct spot welds.
b. Seam Welding. Rather than having to release the electrodes and move the material to form a series of overlapping spot welds, a seam-welding machine is used to manufacture fuel tanks and other components where a continuous weld is needed. Two copper wheels replace the bar-shaped electrodes. The metal to be welded is moved between them, and electric pulses create spots of molten metal that overlap to form the continuous seam.