May 20, 2008
Self-repairing aircraft can improve aviation safety
High end cars from BMW, Merc etc. already have self healing tires so it too far-fetched to imagine self-healing aircrafts? Mimicking the healing processes found in nature, it may be possible to design lighter airplanes in future. This would lead to fuel savings, cutting costs for airlines and passengers and reducing carbon emissions. The technique works like this. If a tiny hole/crack appears in the aircraft (e.g. due to wear and tear, fatigue, a stone striking the plane etc), epoxy resin would ‘bleed’ from embedded vessels near the hole/crack and quickly seal it up, restoring structural integrity. By mixing dye into the resin, any ‘self-mends’ could be made to show as colored patches that could easily be pinpointed during subsequent ground inspections, and a full repair carried out if necessary.
This technology has been developed by aerospace engineers at Bristol University, with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). It has prospective to be applied wherever fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composites are used.
“This project represents just the first step”, says Ian Bond. “We’re also developing systems where the healing agent isn’t contained in individual glass fibers but actually moves around as part of a fully integrated vascular network, just like the circulatory systems found in animals and plants. Such a system could have its healing agent refilled or replaced and could repeatedly heal a structure throughout its lifetime. Furthermore, it offers potential for developing other biological-type functions in man-made structures, such as controlling temperature or distributing energy sources.”
The new self-repair technique developed by the current EPSRC-funded project could be available for commercial use within around four years.