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Aircraft Familiarization Course AIRFRAME Feb, 2016

Instructor: M. Ahmed Shah

Topic: Corrosion
Corrosion is a natural phenomenon. When newly made steel is first exposed to the
air, its originally shiny surface will be covered with rust in a few hours.

The tendency of metals to corrode is related to the low stability of the metallic state.

Metals occur either in the pure metallic state, the zero oxidation state, or in the form
of compounds with other elements (they acquire positive states of oxidation).

In the natural world, most metals are found as compounds with other elements,
indicating the greater stability of their oxidized forms.

For this reason, to obtain the pure metal from one of its compounds, it is necessary
to put in energy.

The reverse is true when a metal is exposed to its environment: it tends to release
this stored energy through the processes of corrosion.

This is rather analogous to what happens when an object is suspended at a point

above the ground (equivalent to the metallic state). When allowed to fall or reach a
stable state, it returns to a position of minimum energy on the ground (equivalent to
the metal's oxidized state).

The chemical reactions that take place in corrosion processes are reduction-
oxidation (redox) reactions.

Such reactions require a species of material that is oxidized (the metal), and another
that is reduced (the oxidizing agent). Thus the complete reaction can be divided into
two partial reactions: one, oxidation; the other, reduction.

In oxidation, the metal loses electrons. The zone in which this happens is known as
the anode

. In the reduction reaction, the oxidizing agent gains the electrons that have been
shed by the metal, and the zone in which this happens is the cathode.

Corrosion processes not only influence the chemical properties of a metal but also
generate changes in its physical properties and its mechanical behavior. This is why
the effects of corrosion are manifested in a variety of forms. The most common form
is uniform corrosion, whereby there is a generalized, overall "attack" of the entire
exposed surface of the metal, leading to a more or less uniform reduction in the
thickness of the affected metal. In contrast, there is the process of localized
corrosion, in which an intense attack takes place only in and around particular zones
of the metal, leaving the rest of the metal unaffected; an example is pitting corrosion.

Page 1 of 5
Aircraft Familiarization Course AIRFRAME Feb, 2016
Instructor: M. Ahmed Shah
Topic: Corrosion
Some other forms of corrosion are stress corrosion cracking, galvanic corrosion,
selective alloy breakdown, intergranular corrosion, fatigue, friction, erosion,
cavitation, hydrogen enbrittlement, biocorrosion, and high temperature oxidation.
We have all seen corrosion and know that the process produces a new and less desirable material
from the original metal and can result in a loss of function of the component or system. The
corrosion product we see most commonly is the rust which forms on the surface of steel and

Steel Rust


For this to happen the major component of steel, iron (Fe) at the surface of a component undergoes
a number of simple changes. Firstly,

Fe Fen+ + n electrons

the iron atom can lose some electrons and become a positively charged ion. This allows it to bond to
other groups of atoms that are negatively charged. We know that wet steel rusts to give a variant of
iron oxide so the other half of the reaction must involve water (H2O) and oxygen (O2) something like

O2 + 2H2O + 4e- 4OH-

This makes sense as we have a negatively charged material that can combine with the iron and
electrons, which are produced in the first reaction are used up. We can, for clarity, ignore the
electrons and write

2Fe + O2 + 2H2O 2Fe(OH)2

Reactions, between metals and their environments, can occur in
either of two (often simultaneous) ways:
chemical (oxidation)
electrochemical (galvanic)
In both cases, the metal is converted into metal compounds such as carbonates, hydroxides,
oxides or sulphates.
The corrosion process involves two concurrent changes. The metal that is attacked, suffers
an Anodic change while the corrosive agent undergoes a Cathodic change. The result is that
material is lost from the Anode and gained by the Cathode, forming an ionic bond.
in a strict chemical sense, oxidation occurs whenever a metal is converted to its ions. an ion
is a neutral atom that has gained or lost one or more of its electrons. the term oxidation is,
however, normally used to describe the direct combination of a metal with the oxygen of the
atmosphere. the phenomenon is essentially a dry one, although water vapour, in the air,
does play a part in the oxidation of some metals. with the exception of gold and platinum, all
metals, in contact with air, form a very thin, visible oxide film. chemical corrosion can be
caused by direct exposure, of the metal surface, to caustic liquids or gaseous agents such
as: spilled battery acids or battery fumes. spilled acids are less of a problem now that nickel
cadmium batteries are in common use. Flux deposits from inadequately cleaned joints. flux
residues are hygroscopic (readily absorb moisture).

Page 2 of 5
Aircraft Familiarization Course AIRFRAME Feb, 2016
Instructor: M. Ahmed Shah
Topic: Corrosion
The oxide film, that forms on metals, generally tends to protect them from further corrosive
attack. the oxidation rate normally falls sharply as the film thickness increases (refer to fig.

so that, at some time, there is virtually no further increase in film thickness.

The graph shows the normal situation with no temperature increase but, occasionally, there
is a continuation of oxidation, due to the fact that oxides may react chemically, or combine
with, water to produce a film that is not impervious to the passage of further oxygen through
it. the oxide skin may also crack or flake and expose the metal surface to further oxidation.
The effect of an increase in temperature usually results in an increase in the rate of oxidation
of a metal (refer to Fig. 02). The actual curves are not as smooth as those shown.

Page 3 of 5
Aircraft Familiarization Course AIRFRAME Feb, 2016
Instructor: M. Ahmed Shah
Topic: Corrosion
Alloying a metal with another metal sometimes improves the oxidation resistance of the
original metal (refer to fig. 03)

The graph shows the effect of adding varying amounts of aluminium (al) to iron. It can be
seen that larger amounts of aluminium result in a slower oxidation rate.
The reason for this effect is that the oxide film, which forms, is rich in aluminium oxide, and
provides more protection than iron oxide. This process is also involved when chromium is
added to nickel to produce stainless steel, on which, the reaction with air on the chromium
produces a protective film of chromium oxide.
A more complicated form of corrosion, which can occur not only on the surface of a metal,
but also within the granular structure of the metal (especially in alloys).
The mechanism of electrochemical corrosion (on single metal and at bimetallic surfaces) is
similar to that of a primary cell, which produces a low-voltage direct current.
In its basic form, it consists of two dissimilar metals in the presence of an electrolyte, An
electrolyte is a chemical (or its solution in water), which is able to conduct an electric current,
due to the process of ionisation. This forms a simple electric cell in which the less noble
metal (the anode) is eaten away.
When, for example, zinc and copper plates, are partially immersed in an electrolyte, of dilute
sulphuric acid, and are connected to an ammeter and voltmeter, the potential difference,
between the plates, causes a current to flow (refer to fig. 04).

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Aircraft Familiarization Course AIRFRAME Feb, 2016
Instructor: M. Ahmed Shah
Topic: Corrosion


The onset of corrosion (and its severity) will depend upon several factors:
Conductivity of the Solution: - Should the resistance of the solution increase, then the rate
of current flow will decrease. This explains why little corrosion occurs in pure water (which
has a high resistance), whilst quite severe corrosion occurs in salt water which conducts
electricity quite well. Adding various chemicals to the electrolyte can change the
resistance and, therefore, the reaction of the galvanic cell. Adding sodium chloride (salt) to
the solution, lowers the resistance of the circuit and, hence, increases the current.
An acid, such as hydrochloric acid, added to the solution, will remove the oxide film from the
plate, which will also lower the resistance, and increase the current flow.
Potential difference between the metals: - the galvanic potentials of metals and alloys, can
be measured and typical values found in solutions of seawater, or water with 3.5% salt
dissolved in it. Any combination of two metals, that one will be the anode, and one the
cathode. it will not, however, predict the severity of the corrosion, as this depends on the
type of electrolyte present.
Ratios of areas: - if the ratio of the anode to cathode area is not unity, then the rate of
corrosion can be much faster (or slower), than would be obtained if they were of equal
areas. if the cathode area is small, relative to the anode area, then the rate of corrosion is
slow. if the cathode area is much larger than the anode area, then the corrosion can be quite

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