HAI Convention News

Alpine Looks To Use Nanocomposites for Helo Parts

 - March 8, 2022, 7:00 AM
Samples of parts made using Alpine Advanced Materials’ HX5 nanocomposites and injection-molding manufacturing processes. (Photo: Mariano Rosales)

Alpine Advanced Materials (Booth 6322) is hoping to break into the helicopter industry with its nanocomposite material called HX5, which was originally developed by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works. Alpine president Roger Raley told AIN that HX5 is 50 percent lighter than 6061-T6 aluminum with 93 percent of its tensile strength, making the material useful for a variety of components on rotorcraft, aircraft, and advanced air mobility (AAM) vehicles.

“The material has really enabled us to get traction in what’s traditionally a hard industry to crack, particularly with a composite material,” Raley said.

Alpine’s business model was built around HX5, which he said Skunk Works designed for the F-35 fighter but eventually put on the shelf because it was such an early technology. Lockheed didn’t end up using HX5 for the F-35’s wing leading edge and wingtip but did employ it on the UH-60W Black Hawk helicopter for an electronics enclosure.

“We went in, looked at a broad intellectual property portfolio (IP) within Lockheed, and we found this material," according to Raley. “We said, ‘Wow. We can really take it and do something with this as we’re seeing particularly aerospace and defense applications trying to get lighter, faster, extending range, and things like that.’”

Once Alpine had the HX5 IP in hand, it created an engineering team to help potential customers understand how they could convert metallic parts to non-metallic ones. “Part of the journey we’ve been on is educating the customer base on how to do that,” Raley explained.

Adding production capability has been another component of rounding out the business. “We also recognize that people don’t necessarily want to just buy material,” he said. “They want to buy a complete part.” Examples of parts that can be fashioned from HX5 are seat hardware, brackets, fasteners, rail slides, and avionics enclosures.

Because manufacturing HX5 requires injection molding, its use is primarily for parts, not large structural components. The strength of the material also limits it as a replacement for structural parts, “particularly when we start going up against some of the stronger metals,” Raley said.  

So far, Alpine has had “multiple engagements” across the rotorcraft industry and is “getting a lot of traction” in the burgeoning AAM sector. “We’ve got a very compelling solution that would allow them to get lighter without sacrificing the performance that they’re getting today,” he concluded.