Superior’s Titanium Tubes Go Supersonic

Superior’s Titanium Tubes Go Supersonic

During the 1970s, Superior Tube was involved in some of the decade’s most significant aerospace developments, including the supply of the Ti-3Al-2.5V hydraulic line tubing used in the F-15 Eagle. One of the most successful modern fighter aircraft, the twin-engine, all-weather F-15, was designed by McDonnell Douglas, now part of Boeing, which made its maiden flight in July 1972. It entered service in 1976.

The F-15 was the first aircraft built by McDonnel Douglas to use titanium tubing, and the company approached Superior in 1972 because the Air Force wanted to ensure that there was a highly reliable source for this specialized product. Over the next two years, Superior focused significant effort on vacuum annealing, straightening, nondestructive testing and chemical milling. Numerous qualification orders were produced, with McDonnell Douglas personnel on-site as observers, and the company was officially approved as a supplier by the end of 1974. The company began receiving significant orders for fractional sizes from .250” to .625” in diameter.

The F-15, variants of which are still in service today, has a maximum high altitude speed of Mach 2.5+ (1,650+ mph). But its development was not the only supersonic aerospace project that Superior Tube contributed to in the 1970s.

In collaboration with Fine Tubes in the UK, the company worked on the development of the same titanium product used on the F-15 – Ti- 3Al-2.5V – for the Concorde program. In 1976, as a major supplier to Rolls Royce, Superior Tube was represented in the first west-to-east flight of the iconic supersonic passenger jet.

The 1970s also saw Superior Tube achieve significant progress in other areas. The company developed and patented an integrated tube rolling process that made it possible to produce tubing from reactive metals and other high value, hard-to-work alloys, including titanium for aerospace applications and zirconium for use in another of the company’s key markets, nuclear power. Indeed, it was during the 1970s that Superior was given qualified status by the US Atomic Energy Commission as a supplier of fuel cladding for the FFTF/LMFBR (Fast Flux Test Facility/Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor) in Hanford, Washington.

This was also the decade in which Superior Tube began strengthening its reputation in the medical industry. The company had been involved in developing dental applications since the early 1950s, including dental drills, buccal tubes and instruments used for filling cavities. It had also contributed to a precursor to the implantable cardiac pacemaker, known at the time as ‘the mechanical heart, which was used to automatically regulate patients’ heartbeats. Superior’s contribution to the medical industry really began to accelerate in the 1970s, however, with the widespread marketing of pacemakers and other medical device implants. The company also played a major role in the development of numerous other medical instruments, including the ‘stent’: uniquely designed tubes placed in coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart and keep the arteries open in the treatment of coronary heart disease. Also in the 1970s, Superior produced the needle for the ‘Radiation Implanter’, which dispensed tiny radioactive isotopes into the body for the treatment of cancerous tumors.

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