Aerospace & Defense Refractory Metals

The demands of the modern age are felt keenly in the aerospace and defense markets. Products must perform to stringent functional and regulatory standards; either guaranteeing the safety of operators or helping to combat threats in an efficient and ethical manner. H.C. Starck Solutions can help with these increasingly prevalent challenges in the world’s most competitive industries.

General Electric GEnx Aircraft Jet Engine

Refractory Alloys in Aerospace

Building machines that can fly through our atmosphere or travel into space requires materials capable of withstanding rapid and large fluctuations in mechanical load and temperature.1 While research in composite materials and ceramics has produced materials with these capabilities, designers often find that such materials cannot be easily fabricated into the complex shapes required for aerospace components.2

Refractory metal alloys offer an alternative approach, providing high temperature- and load-bearing characteristics while still being relatively easy to work with.

At H.C. Starck Solutions, we focus on manufacturing high purity refractories and alloys for harsh operating environments, offering a choice of industry-trusted products for aerospace and defense. These include:

  • Tungsten heavy alloy (WHA) balance weights and shielding components
  • Grade C-103 niobium (Nb) sheet and nozzles
  • Titanium-zirconium-molybdenum (TZM) forging dies
  • Missile components based on molybdenum (Mo), tantalum (Ta), and WHA

The refractory metals tungsten, molybdenum, tantalum, and niobium all find applications in the aerospace industry because of their high melting points and high-temperature strength.2 Niobium is of particular interest: it has the lowest density of the refractory metals, close to that of nickel, and it exhibits good thermal conductivity. In addition, niobium is easier to work with than most refractory metals due to its high room-temperature ductility, low ductile-to-brittle transition temperature, and weldability.

Niobium-based refractory alloys have been the subject of a great deal of research in attempts to develop an alloy with the perfect combination of properties for use in aerospace applications. C-103 is one such alloy that exhibits a promising combination of elevated temperature strength and fabrication characteristics.


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    C-103: A Lightweight, High-Temperature and High-Strength Alloy

    C-103 is a complex niobium based alloy with additions of 10wt% hafnium, 1wt% titanium, and trace amounts of other elements.3 It’s a well-understood material that has been exploited for its exceptional mechanical strength and stability across huge temperature ranges since almost the beginning of the space age.4 However, this exceptional alloy is still the subject of much research, and new applications are continuously being developed.

    For aerospace applications in the 1100-1500 C temperature range, alloy C-103 has long been the “workhorse of the industry” because of its superior strength and stability, which is maintained from cryogenic temperatures up to 1482 C.2 Its room temperature yield strength is 341 MPa, decreasing only to 165 MPa at 1200 C.3

    Crucially, C-103 is relatively easy to form – something that cannot be said of all refractory metals, nor of many refractory ceramics or composites developed for aerospace. In spite of its high melting temperature, C-103 can be processed via traditional melting and thermomechanical processes, enabling it to be formed into a range of complex shapes. C-103 can even be TIG welded without significant loss of ductility or machinability.

    For these reasons, C-103 alloy is well-suited to a number of aerospace applications: it’s commonly used in aircraft gas turbines, rocket engine nozzles, and high-temperature valves. The formability and high-temperature performance of C-103 have even been put to use in jet engine afterburner liners.

    This alloy is being researched for use in next-generation aerospace technologies such as thrust augmenter flaps and heat pipes for dissipating heat from hypersonic leading edges and nose cones.

    H.C. Starck Solutions supplies a full range of refractory metal solutions for all industries. Refractory metals and alloys, including C-103, are available in a range of other forms including bars, rods, sheets, and plates. Alloys including TZM (Mo-0.5Ti-0.1Zr) and MHC (Mo-1.2Hf-0.1C) are available, with custom alloys offered on request.  Drawing on decades of experience, H.C. Starck Solutions offers complete fabrication of complex parts from refractory metal alloys.

    Refractory metals and alloys are also available in both irregular and spherical powders with precise and narrow size distributions for powder metallurgy applications and additive manufacturing.

    With recent advances in additive manufacturing, complex components in many refractory metals can be more readily produced. For these very expensive materials, additive manufacturing also offers economic advantages since components are manufactured using only the exact amount of material required and generating almost no machining waste. Additionally, refractory alloys that in the past were extremely difficult to process into useful shapes can be readily formed using additive manufacturing, since traditional thermomechanical processing is not required.

    If you are in need of resilient high-temperature materials, get in touch to find out more about H.C. Starcks Solutions’ refractory metal and refractory alloy portfolio.

    View References & Further Reading
      1. Zhang, S. & Zhao, D. Aerospace Materials Handbook. (CRC Press, 2012).
      2. Satya Prasad, V. V., Baligidad, R. G. & Gokhale, A. A. Niobium and Other High Temperature Refractory Metals for Aerospace Applications. in Aerospace Materials and Material Technologies (eds. Prasad, N. E. & Wanhill, R. J. H.) 267–288 (Springer Singapore, 2017). doi:10.1007/978-981-10-2134-3_12.
      3. Panwar, S. S., Prasad, K., Umasankar Patro, T., Balasubramanian, K. & Venkataraman, B. On the occurrence of dynamic strain aging in C-103 Nb based alloy. Materials Science and Engineering: A 620, 286–292 (2015).
      4. C-103 Nb Alloy: Properties & Applications. C. Starck Solutions (2020).