By JR Raphael
Contributing Writer, [GAS]
Imagine a plane that can heal itself the same way your body does. Turns out, it may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.
Scientists at the University of Bristol have developed a new self-repairing aircraft. The plane’s materials allow it to “mimic healing processes found in nature” and “mend [itself] automatically” in the middle of a flight.
The magic happens through an epoxy resin — the same kind of stuff sold at hardware stores for amateur building projects. When a crack or hole appears in the plane, the resin “bleeds” out of built-in vessels and seals it right up. Researchers say it’ll leave the area about 80 to 90 percent as strong as it was before the break. The resin is even mixed with a dye so inspectors on the ground can easily spot the spot and flag the plane for a full inspection.
Time-lapse photography over 45 minutes showing the healing of a 16 ply E-glass/913 composite laminate
“This approach can deal with small-scale damage that’s not obvious to the naked eye but which might lead to serious failures in structural integrity if it escapes attention,” explains project leader Dr. Ian Bond.
“It’s 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.”
Bond — curious name coincidence — is now working on improving the system even more. He wants to have the healing resin eventually circulate through the plane’s shell in what he calls a “fully integrated vascular network,” making it even more like the circulatory systems in our bodies and in plants.
The technology could be put to actual use within the next four years. The same concepts could also be applied to cars and even spacecraft, the scientists say, because they have the same kind of fiber-reforced polymer as the planes.