Carbon fiber supersonic missile control surface development and analysis

Ralph W Jensen, University of Texas at El Paso


This thesis describes the results of a study designed to develop a supersonic missile control surface (or steering fin). The new control surface design is a structure composed of carbon fiber reinforced polymer molded around a stainless steel core. The current production unit is an Inconel weldment. The new design's geometry and function had to be identical to that of the current production part. It utilizes a centrally located metallic blade, or core, that is imbedded and interlocked into the composite material. The base of the blade transitions into a round shaft designed to connect to the missile's steering control system in the same manner as the Inconel unit. The study used finite element calculations that were then verified with experimental results using the new design manufactured from a Cyanate Ester chopped carbon fiber compound and a stainless steel blade. The prototype parts were manufactured to half-scale using a thermo-compression molding process. Finite element calculations were also employed towards analyzing thermal flight-loads and ablation protection upon the fin's leading edges. The study concludes that composite control surfaces are viable for supersonic missile applications and that they will be much lighter (26% less) and less expensive to manufacture than Inconel units.

Subject Area

Mechanical engineering|Aerospace materials

Recommended Citation

Jensen, Ralph W, "Carbon fiber supersonic missile control surface development and analysis" (2005). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1430962.