For an aircraft design to be suitable for flight operations, it must be able to achieve ample lift while maintaining stability across surfaces. Lateral stability is extremely important for aircraft, ensuring that they do not easily roll while in the air. Additionally, lateral stability also keeps the aircraft moving in a straight direction instead of being forced into a turn whenever turbulence is experienced. In order to uphold such stability, aircraft designs take advantage of the keel effect which is achieved with the use of a keel beam.
In the realm of aviation, the keel beam is a structure that runs across the belly of the fuselage, connecting the front and rear portions of the aircraft underside. Additionally, the keel beam is also attached to a central wing box, and the entire assembly will have a U-shape as it follows the orientation of the aircraft body’s lower portion. As such, the keel beam structure defines a closed section of the fuselage where openings are provided to access the inside of the beam assembly. With a keel beam, aircraft are provided the benefit of being more sturdy, ensuring that the base fuselage is not subject to longitudinal bending.
While keel beams may be found in other vehicles like marine vessels, such structures serve a different purpose. For example, the keel beams found on ships and boats are generally used as the backbone of the ship by serving as the main load carrying member. As such, the keel beam does not provide the same type of lateral stability or protection against longitudinal bending.
Although aircraft do not technically require a keel beam to achieve flight, it is essential if one wishes to have ample control over the vehicle. Typically, aircraft with small wings and large vertical surfaces are at the highest risk of being affected by excessive moments created by side loads, making the implementation of a keel beam necessary to avoid rolling.
Nevertheless, there are some aircraft models that are devoid of the keel structure, an example being the Boeing 787. Instead of featuring a keel structure, the strength of the hull is achieved through the use of composite barrels that are fastened onto one another. By using composites, Boeing is able to ensure stability and bending mitigation while keeping assemblies light as a result of the optimal strength-to-weight ratios that composites offer.
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