Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drones (generally used to describe small systems), and unmanned aerial system (UAS) (often used more frequently by military organizations) have been developed and used for many years. UAVs can carry cargo and/or sensors and can be used for commercial and military applications.

Composite materials have long been an integral part of the structural design of these UAVs. Hexcel’s lightweight materials create lighter, more-efficient vehicles that can cover longer ranges carrying greater payloads for extended periods of time. Composite structures made from Hexcel materials have been a part of military aviation and space operations for decades, and they perform very well under extremely harsh environmental and thermal loading. Today, almost all UAV structures are made from carbon fiber composites.

Hexcel offers an extensive line of carbon fiber solutions, including a range of HexTow® high modulus and high strength carbon fibers, which offer exceptional stiffness-to-weight performance critical for UAV structural applications. These fibers are part of an extensive line of materials including epoxy matrix materials for standard autoclave cure, out-of-autoclave cure, quick cure, and infusion that are offered in woven fabric, unidirectional sheet, and tape form. Thermoplastic matrix systems are available that offer many processing, manufacturing, and repair advantages. Higher temperature matrix systems such as Bismaleimides (BMIs) are also available for higher temperature applications. 

HexAM® additive manufacturing creates carbon fiber–infused PEKK thermoplastic 3D-printed parts that offer highly durable, complex geometries that do not require complex attachments or weld points and can be produced in complex shapes. This technology has the benefit of high reproducibility, fast turnover, functional complexity, and weight reduction and can have a substantial and positive impact on performance while also yielding cost and energy savings.

Hexcel’s advanced materials can contribute to the electromagnetic properties of UAV systems. Since these systems are unmanned, they require efficient and reliable communication with ground stations or other UAVs through wireless or satellite communications. Hexcel materials can be tuned to absorb certain electromagnetic frequencies and pass other frequencies. They are used for radomes that protect the transmit and receive antennas, and the radome materials and structure can be engineered to allow for efficient communication while blocking out signals that are coming from other sources.

Additional article on UAVs and composite materials