What is the Purpose of the Bulkhead in an Aircraft?

Posted on November 8, 2021 Alex Marsh

Airplanes are some of the most meticulously designed vehicles in engineering. While it is easy to appreciate the apparent flight control surfaces like the wings, elevators, and rudder, hundreds of other equally important components in the plane's interior contribute to safe operation. In this blog, we will be discussing the design and function of an aircraft's various bulkheads.

A fuselage bulkhead is a structure that separates different sections of the aircraft. Passengers can easily recognize bulkheads as the vertical structures separating the first-class, coach, and flight crew areas. In addition to the visible bulkhead structures, an aft pressure bulkhead lies in the back of the aircraft, separating the passenger compartment from the cargo area. While not evident at first, bulkheads play a largely functional role in addition to providing aesthetics.
The first crucial function that a bulkhead provides is structural support to the fuselage. Specifically, at areas of the fuselage that connect to other structures, such as the wing, the vertical bulkheads are much heavier to support the concentrated weight. For example, in military cargo aircraft that must support extreme weights, the bulkheads are numerous and thick.
While providing structural support to the fuselage is a crucial feature, the most important job of the bulkhead is to maintain a proper pressure gradient in the passenger area. The aft pressure bulkhead, found in the back of the aircraft, is a component that seals off the pressurized part of the aircraft during flight. It is analogous to the cap on a pressurized oxygen tank, for example. Since many compartments on the plane do not need to be pressurized during flight, the bulkhead saves much space. In addition to the aft bulkhead, a forward component exists as well, usually at the nose of the aircraft, separating the cabin from the radar in the frontmost portion of the plane.
The design and material of the aft pressure bulkhead varies between aircraft and is a constantly evolving area of research. Curved bulkheads reduce the amount of material needed to construct the structure but leave less usable cabin space. On the other hand, flat designs cost more to manufacture and weigh more but allow for more internal space. While traditionally made from aluminum, many aeronautical engineers are now looking to use composite materials to save money and weight.
The condition of the various bulkheads should be checked with equal regularity as other crucial parts of the plane. While rare, several instances of bulkhead failure have ended in catastrophic damage. In addition to obvious signs of deterioration like corrosion, events like tail strikes which cause an enormous amount of shear stress on the rear of the aircraft should prompt further inspection of the aft pressure bulkhead. As an example of how important bulkhead design is, Boeing recently delayed the production and delivery of over fifty new 787 Dreamliners this year. This delay was caused by the failure of the forward bulkhead to meet the imposed tolerances, measured in thousands of an inch.
If you are looking to source reliable bulkhead components for your aircraft, Jet Parts 360 has you covered. As a leading distributor of aerospace components, we aim to help our customers fulfill all their operational requirements at a fair price and with rapid lead times. Additionally, as an AS9120B, ISO 9001:2015, and FAA AC 00-56B certified and accredited enterprise, we employ various measures to ensure the quality of our inventory. Furthermore, we offer expedited shipping to domestic and international customers and frequently meet the shortened time requirements of customers facing AOG situations. Browse our expansive catalog and submit an RFQ today to see how Jet Parts 360 takes the stress out of sourcing aerospace components.


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