Aircraft that self-repair during a flight may soon be a reality

May 20th, 2008 - 12:49 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, May 20 (ANI): Ever thought about an aeroplane that repairs itself automatically even during a flight?

Well, though it feels like a pipe dream, aerospace engineers at Bristol University do have an idea that just might make aircraft with self-healing properties possible.

As to how their technique would work, the researchers said that in the event of a tiny hole or crack in the aircraft, epoxy resin would bleed from embedded vessels near the effected site and quickly seal it up.

The researchers say that mixing dye into the resin could make any self-mends to appear as coloured patches, which could be easily detected during subsequent ground inspections.

They say that their technique may be workable wherever fibre-reinforced polymer (FRP) composites are usedsuch as in cars, wind turbines, and even spacecraft manufacture.

The researchers attribute their success in conceiving the new technique to the financial support they got from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

According to them, their methods innovative aspect involves filling the hollow glass fibres contained in FRP composites with resin and hardener, which would ooze out as and when the fibres break.

The material thus oozing out would help recover about 80 to 90 per cent of the original strength of the planes body, and thereby allow it to function at its normal operational load.

This approach can deal with small-scale damage thats not obvious to the naked eye but which might lead to serious failures in structural integrity if it escapes attention, says Dr Ian Bond, who has led the project.

Its intended to complement rather than replace conventional inspection and maintenance routines, which can readily pick up larger-scale damage, caused by a bird strike, for example, he added.

The researchers believe that a further improvement in the already excellent safety characteristics of FRP composites could encourage even more rapid uptake of such self-healing materials in the aerospace sector.

A key benefit would be that aircraft designs including more FRP composites would be significantly lighter than the primarily aluminium-based models currently in service, which would in turn lead to substantial fuel savings, the researchers add.

This project represents just the first step, says Ian Bond.

Were also developing systems where the healing agent isnt contained in individual glass fibres 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, he adds.

The researchers say that their self-repair technique may be available for commercial use within around four years. (ANI)

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