Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to deal with the failure analysis of a fractured spar stiffener, extruded from 7075-T6 aluminum alloy, which was found in the central wing, trailing edge structure of a military transport aircraft. The previous loading history and the dominant environmental factors (corrosive and humid atmosphere, water entrapment, etc.) suggest corrosion and fatigue as the principal failure modes, synergistically acting on the wing component.
Design/methodology/approach – This study presents the failure analysis concentrated on finding evidence of failure mechanisms and plausible root-cause(s) of the fractured spar stiffener. Chemical analysis, stereo and scanning electron microscopy, as well as finite element analysis employed as the
main analytical tools for material characterization and failure investigation.
Findings – The overall evaluation of the findings suggest that the failure caused by a synergy of two mechanisms; a crack initiated in the longitudinal, extrusion direction by an environmentally assisted corrosion attack, then propagated by the superimposed transverse stress field, branched/deflected
due to a low crack driving force and extended in a transverse path through a high cycle fatigue process. Finally, the complete fracture occurred as fast fracture, resulted by a ductile overload.
Originality/value – This paper deals with an industrial damage case study, providing analysis and modeling from structural engineering standpoint. The aforementioned findings concerning the fractured aircraft component allow gaining a deeper knowledge about the mechanisms of crack initiation and propagation which, in turn, can produce a valuable feedback to design, inspection and maintenance procedures. This includes a modified heat treatment from T6 to T73 temper for the redesigned component.