Failure of an aircraft structural component can have catastrophic consequences, with resultant loss of life and of the aircraft. The investigation of defects and failures in aircraft structures is, thus, of vital importance in preventing further incidents. This review discusses the common failure modes observed in aircraft structures, with examples drawn from case histories. The review will also outline the investigative procedures employed in the examination of failed components.QinetiQ has long been associated with the analysis of structural failures and has a long history of involvement with aircraft failure investigations since the days of the Royal Aircraft Establishment. With respect to metallurgical failure investigations and advice, an unbroken sequence of records exists from the Second World War and contains approximately 6000 case histories, of which approximately half relate to structural failure on aircraft. The work undertaken is primarily for the UK Ministry of Defence and the Air Accident Investigations Branch (AAIB) of the UK Government’s Department for Transport. Increasingly over the last few years, investigations have also been undertaken for insurance loss adjusters and as expert witnesses in litigation cases.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(02)01138-0