It’s no question the Airstream Travel Trailer is iconic. The beloved “Silver Bullet” has been traveling the world’s highways for 85 years, still turning heads to this day.
What makes Airstream a legend of the American highway? Their longevity isn’t just due to their aesthetics, it’s a testament to their toughness, durability, and iconic design. The story behind the way they’re built? Simply riveting.
Did you know that when an Airstream Travel Trailer is built in Jackson Center, Ohio, the entire outside shell is constructed first? As sheets of aluminum are sized and stretched over the frame, they’re riveted – not welded – together. Have you ever wondered why?
Let’s go back – way back – to the 1840’s, when rivets first came into common use. The versatile fasteners were used for many purposes, and became the most important joining technique in the boilermaking and shipbuilding industries.
Years later, they grew in popularity in one industry in particular that will forever be tied to Airstream: aviation. Thank two pioneers, Anthony Fokker and Hugo Junkers, whose new aircraft called the Junker J2 needed to be more durable, and lighter.
They first turned to steel sheeting, but found it was too heavy, so they experimented with a new high-strength aluminum alloy called duralumin. Welded at the seams, they had found the right material, but found it deteriorated rather quickly as the material was being forced to stretch in ways it couldn’t handle.
Their next model utilized specially-engineered rivets, and within a few years, the same technique was used in the Bowlus travel trailer, and later the Airstream Clipper of 1935. The rest is history.
Why are they still used today?
An important aspect of Airstream’s design, both in the past and today, is its semi-monocoque shape. That’s a technical word that describes what you read above – that an Airstream’s shell is constructed as if it’s all one piece.
This gives the Airstream its aerodynamic shape, which can reduce fuel consumption of a tow vehicle up to 20%. It makes it easier to tow than other travel trailers, even in heavy crosswinds. It allows for more even weight distribution, as all tanks and spare tires are placed below the unit. And the superstructure itself is able to absorb stress while providing rigidity and strength.
Rivets are an important part of any structure – so, as you just learned, these permanent fasteners work with the rest of the Travel Trailer to absorb and dampen those vibrations from the road and to accept the stresses of years and years of Airstream adventures.
So Airstream’s long history of using rivets isn’t just for show – down to each individual rivet, an Airstream travel trailer is designed for long-lasting journeys, to take you, as founder Wally Byam famously said, “wherever the four winds blow.”