Meeting the Challenges of Aviation Welding


Commercial aviation has existed for just over 100 years. Yet, today the ferrying of passengers and cargo is essential for travel and commerce throughout the world. What began with a single passenger flight from St. Petersburg, FL, piloted by Tony Jannus in 1914, now generates more than $800 billion yearly. 

Advances in the understanding and implementation of aeronautics is a major factor that has contributed to the industry’s unparalleled growth. Materials, manufacturing processes, and equipment have also evolved alongside those advances. Throughout its 100-year development, aviation welding has played a crucial role.

Even in the early days of flight, aircraft construction and maintenance relied on aviation welding. For example, early commercial aircraft utilized welded steel tube frames. Although basic steel is still used in aircraft, a number of other materials including Inconel®, titanium, special stainless steel, and other alloys are now employed to reduce weight.

In addition to changes in materials, welding equipment and processes have experienced many improvements. Let’s take a look at aviation welding today—at the major challenges and how best to meet them. After examining these challenges, we can take a peek over the horizon at how aviation welding is likely to evolve.

Contemporary Aviation Welding

Aviation welding can be defined as the use of welding techniques, materials, and equipment in the manufacturing and/or maintenance of flying vehicles, which includes both heavier-than-air and lighter-than-air vehicle types, as listed below.  

Lighter Than Air
Heavier Than Air

  • Rigid
  • Semi-rigid
Aerodynes (fixed-wing, rotorcraft)

  • Fixed-wing (airliner)
  • Rotorcraft (helicopter)


  • Satellites
  • Rockets

As illustrated above, flying vehicles, whether designed and built to operate within the earth’s atmosphere or in outer space, require welding. And both pose significant challenges for aviation welding. 

Major Challenges for Aviation Welding

The boundaries of flight are constantly expanding. As passenger numbers and congestion at lower altitudes increase, commercial carriers have turned to lighter aircraft that are easier to operate and more fuel-efficient at higher altitudes. Several factors—including the increased reliance on satellites for communication, weather monitoring, mapping, and the renewed interest in space travel and exploration—have led to the development of new designs for aerospace systems. As a result, the welding industry faces significant challenges in building and maintaining flight vehicles described in the requirements listed below.

Aviation Welding Requirements

Adjusting to more complex designs

In order to build lighter, stronger, and faster aircraft, aluminum and special alloys like titanium, Inconel®, and stainless steel are becoming more prevalent. Additionally, the complexly structured parts created from 3D printing are gaining popularity. These trends make it more difficult to avoid light heat distortion.lved.

Adhering to high safety standards

Safety has always been a top priority in aircraft construction. This is especially true for spacecraft, as maintenance is not an option for many deployments. Consequently, there are a number of regulations and standards that govern aviation welding. Important governing bodies in this area include the International Standards Organization (ISO), Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), and the National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program (NADCAP), which is administered by the Performance Review Institute (PRI) and sets quality management system (QMS) and aerospace welding process requirements.

Ensuring reliability in severe operating conditions

Space is a hazardous environment. Vehicles that operate there may be subjected to various types of radiation, extreme temperature swings, high pressure, and mechanical stresses. Construction failures can be catastrophic and result in the loss of expensive vehicles that sometimes take years to assemble. In the worst cases, construction failures can result in the loss of life. Similarly, failures resulting from substandard aircraft welding assembly and maintenance can be just as consequential.

By using the best process, equipment, and materials, welders can achieve the high-quality welds that will ensure the requirements listed above are met. And since failing to satisfy these welding requirements for aircraft and spacecraft is unacceptable, it is imperative to institute solutions such as the ones described below.

Solutions for Today’s Aircraft and Spacecraft Welding Challenges

When building aircraft and spacecraft safety should be a primary consideration for every aspect of processes and assembly. For parts and materials that are welded, this means that the strongest, most reliable welds must be sought for all joints. This objective motivated the development of GTAW, or TIG, welding as an improvement for Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) and Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW) for assembling flight vehicles. As a result, GTAW or TIG welding, which produces the highest quality welds, is the preferred process for aviation welding.

TIG welding can be a slow and meticulous process, which places heightened responsibility on the welder to maintain consistency throughout the weld cycle. Moreover, the process requires a high level of skill; finding professionals with the necessary experience and expertise can itself be a challenge. The best solution for this dilemma when assembling piping and tubing for flight vehicles is orbital welding equipment. For orbital welding, the movement of the weld head and feeder wire control is automated and can be controlled from a remote control unit. This type of control frees the welder to focus on orbital diagnostics, monitor weld quality, and improve process efficiency.

High-quality welds are more readily achievable by employing TIG welding, using orbital welding equipment, and utilizing the best materials, including tungsten electrodes. High quality tungsten electrodes provide the necessary consistency to reliably generate yields that optimize joint strength and minimize the possibility of failure due to mechanical stresses. Combined with orbital welding equipment and the TIG welding process, high quality electrodes provide the ideal solutions needed for aviation welding, as shown below.

Challenge Solution
Best Process GTAW (TIG Welding)

  • Developed for aviation welding
  • Highest quality welds
  • Reliability
Best Equipment Orbital Welding

  • Automated weld head movement
  • Consistent weld quality
  • Safe, remote control
  • Various pipe and tube sizes
Best Materials Tungsten Electrodes

  • Can be used for various materials
  • Stainless steel
  • Aluminum
  • Titanium
  • Magnesium
  • Stable strength
  • Cost effective

By applying the best process, equipment, and material solutions, as shown in the table above, aviation welding can help ensure well-built, safe, and reliable aircraft and spacecraft meet or exceed the requirements. 

Future Challenges and Solutions for Aviation Welding

The desire to build lighter and faster flight vehicles more cost-effectively will continue to drive innovation in aircraft and spacecraft design and development. New technologies that include 3D printing and the Internet-of-Things (IoT) will be further embraced. To meet these challenges, aviation welding will need to leverage existing functionality such as diagnostics and imagery, as shown below, to develop new solutions that keep pace with the challenges while maintaining the high-quality standards required for aviation welding.

As an industry leader that continually strives to push the envelope of technological utilization, Arc Machines, Inc. provides the best solutions for contemporary aviation welding and is positioned to remain at the forefront of the field.


Arc Machines, Inc., since its founding by former NASA engineers in 1976, has been an industry leader in producing high-quality and high-tech welding equipment. This includes advanced orbital welding machines and weld heads that make it easy to implement GTAW and achieve the weld quality and reliability required for aviation welding. For inquiries regarding products, contact For service inquiries, contact Arc Machines welcomes the opportunity to discuss your specific needs. Contact us to arrange a meeting.