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Vanadium A Green Metal Critical to Aerospace and Clean Energy

  • Magazine Article
  • 20AERP08_02
Published August 01, 2020 by SAE International in United States
  • English

In the 1960s, the world's leading aerospace engineers at Lockheed's Skunk Works facility faced an extraordinarily difficult engineering challenge: how to design a successor to the U-2 spy aircraft, which had proven increasingly vulnerable to advanced Soviet anti-aircraft systems. Among other capabilities, the next-generation aircraft they were to design required an ability to cruise at a sustained speed of Mach 3+, operate at altitudes exceeding 80,000 feet, and feature as low a radar cross section as possible. Given the technologies of the day - slide rules were still used by engineers for most calculations - it was a daunting task.

One of the key hurdles was designing and machining components of the jet's outer skin such that it could handle temperatures from aerodynamic friction and continuous engine operation as high as 1,050 °F. The answer: titanium-based alloys that contained the metal vanadium. When added to titanium, vanadium helps to create alloys with the best strength-to-weight ratio of any engineered material on earth.