Self-healing airplane wings could be introduced in the next five to ten years, according to University of Bristol researchers.
In 2008, the University of Bristol began working on a project to apply the concept of bleeding and scabbing to airplanes, with the intention of helping airplane wings “self-heal” small cracks.
“Because engineers are worried about cracks forming in composites, they currently build many aircraft parts much stronger, and therefore heavier, than may be necessary, so they can withstand a 40% loss in strength during use. This means more fuel is needed to get them off the ground and flying to their destinations, which is far from ideal, in terms of aviation’s impact on the environment,” Dr. Emile Greenhalgh said at the beginning of the project.
When you get a small cut on you skin, your blood flows, clots, and scabs, often leading to total skin recovery depending on the type of cut. The same concept was being applied to airplane wings, and according to a BBC report, we could see self healing airplane wings in the next five to ten years.
Inside the test wings are microspheres filled with a liquid carbon agent that releases and hardens when the microspheres burst. The agent seeps into the cracks before coming into contact with a catalyst, triggering a rapid chemical reaction which causes it to harden. The catalyst itself will present in the redesigned wings.
While the agent would not be able to repair large holes, even the smallest of cracks can lead to serious issues.
“We’re talking about tiny cracks – not a 1m-wide (3ft) hole,” claims chemistry professor Duncan Wass, who is working on the research project. “But micro-cracks can lead to catastrophic failures.”
“We are talking about aeroplane wings here – the most demanding application because of the safety aspect,” Wass told BBC. “You have to over-engineer. We would literally break it, allow it to heal, break it again. In some cases we were getting 100% recovery.”
The project received a £1.2 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.
According to planecrashinfo.com, the odds of being in a fatal plane crash on a major world airline is 1 in 4.7 million, despite the number of plane related deaths in 2014 doubling from the previous year.