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Self-Healing Jets on the Way

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Self-Healing Jets on the Way
June 30
09:33 2015

It may sound like a sci-fi cliché, but self-healing jets could take to the skies sooner than you think.

Self-Healing Airplanes

Imagine a plane that could fix itself on-the-go!  Scientists at the University of Bristol in England have spent several years developing self-healing material that could repair cracks on an aircraft, similar to the way human skin heals.  The material could also fix cracks in bicycle frames and heal small fissures in wind turbines.

According to an article on CNN, the university researchers focused on carbon fiber reinforced composite materials.  These hollow “microspheres” are made of carbon fiber, used in sports equipment and today’s modern airplane. If a crack should form, the healing agent contained in the microspheres is released. It then would react with a catalyst in the wings.  Similar to blood, the healing agent begins to clot and harden. It would literally glue the crack together.  The research team worked with a group of aerospace engineers and took inspiration from the healing properties of human skin. 

“Our approach here is to take the inspiration from the human body in that if we get damaged, we have the mechanisms to repair that damage,” said professor Duncan Wass one of the lead researchers on the project during his interview with CNN.   “If you cut your finger, eventually it will heal, so we thought, can we apply that sort of idea to these man-made structures? So that’s what we’ve done,” he added.

Challenges on the Way

To date the technology can only help to fix very small cracks. However, it is those tiny cracks that lead to larger problems and could possibly endanger an aircraft if they are not caught early enough.   Areas of the plane that are deemed higher risk could get that coat of special microspheres.

One interesting challenge for the scientists actually has to do with weather conditions.  They are taking into account the various temperatures of landing locations to see if cracks will heal in the same way across the diverse environments planes land.

According to Professor Wass, self-fixing jets are still about a decade away from being developed. “For aerospace applications where safety is absolutely critical we’re probably a long way off,” he said.

However, the technology could reach more consumer items earlier such as bicycle frames or on equipment like offshore wind turbine blades.

For aviation enthusiasts the reality of self-healing jets still may be years off.   However, the technology is being developed and that means a self-healing airplane is part of our future.

Image source: SWNS

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