Can modern airliners still be seen as stressed-skin aircraft?

i.e. is the skin, whether it be aluminium or composites, still an integral structural member of the airplane?


1 Answer 1


Yes, absolutely. The skin transfers shear stresses between the stringers or longerons which run lengthwise along the fuselage and transmit tensile or compressive stress. Cutouts and openings (for doors and windows) need special local reinforcements, so the reduced structure can still withstand the loads.

Equally, the wing skin is the main element for the transmission of torsional loads. In today's airliners, the spar is part of the skin, but the wing skin ahead and aft of it is also a part of the primary structure.

Generally, stress follows stiffness. When a structure is loaded, it will deform, and those parts which withstand deformation most will carry most of the load. In the end, all parts which have similar stiffness will carry loads in proportion to their cross section. Since most of an airliner's structure is made from aluminum, it has the same stiffness.

See this question for one example clearly showing fuselage skin deformation.

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    $\begingroup$ Do you know if this holds true for the carbon-composite skin of the 787? $\endgroup$ Jan 30, 2015 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ @raptortech97: That should probably be asked in another question. $\endgroup$
    – dotancohen
    Mar 15, 2015 at 10:47
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    $\begingroup$ @raptortech97: Yes, absolutely! Carbon-composites have similar to higher stiffness than aluminium (depends on fiber orientation) and show elastic deformation up to their breaking point, so their load-carrying capacity can and is fully being used. See this answer for more. $\endgroup$ Mar 15, 2015 at 11:42

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