Editorial Feature

Future Materials for Aerospace

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In April, Grand View Research underscored just how big the aerospace materials market is becoming in a report that stated the aerospace plastics market alone will reach nearly $12 billion by 2022.

The focus of engineers working on aerospace materials to bring to the market is no longer just for commercial or military aircraft. They are also looking at the rapidly expanding drone market, as drones pose an entire different set of problems for materials scientist. Although, a Drones’ ability to fly without a human on board presents novel advantages.

Materials for Conventional Aircraft

At Imperial College London engineers are using state-of-the-art computer modeling techniques to develop new aerospace materials, which help to reduce costs associated with physical prototypes.

The British researchers are using their modeling techniques to investigate progressive strain on an aircraft’s exterior. The engineers have said that the models have been particularly effective at assessing materials with a complex internal architecture.

The team noted that their methods have already been used to tackle issues including projecting the trajectory of runway stones kicked up by the wheels of an airplane during take-off and landing, the reaction of sandwich beams to stress and the factors behind failure in recycled composite materials.

At the University of Michigan, researchers are currently looking to solve the vibration and noise problems of helicopters through the use of materials. Using custom embedded piezoelectric materials, the team has developed prototype blades that were able to alter the acoustic noise signature of a helicopter by changing the blade-vortex interaction pattern. The blades achieve this effect, and reduce vibrations, by reshaping themselves as the helicopter’s rotor spins.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina released a dramatic web video in April that showed how a composite metal foam could reduce or even completely eliminate damage due to a ballistic impact. The video showed armor plating with composite metal foam as the energy-absorbing middle layer stopping a bullet and effectively turning it into dust.

Video Credit: NCState | YouTube

In addition to the obvious application for military aircraft the metal foam armor could also protect space-based vehicles, which are frequently pelted by bits of space debris traveling at very high speed. Furthermore, the UNC team said that this material has been shown to effectively block x-ray, gamma ray and neutron radiation, making it even more valuable in space travel applications.

Materials for Micro-Air Vehicles

Engineers at Imperial College London are also developing materials for drone aircraft, also known as micro-air vehicles, with multiple functions besides providing structural integrity.

ICL researchers said one added function is the storage of electrical energy. If the technology is perfected, could also be applied to personal electronic devices like laptops and cell phones. Other added functions the British team are working on include a self-healing capability, adjustable flexibility, and noise reduction.

A direct application of that research was on display in February, when ICL researchers debuted a drone made with materials a college researcher had created. The drone was particularly striking due to its bat wing-inspired design. The drone’s flexible wings are made from a polymer membrane and artificial muscles. Electrical current surging through the wings can cause them to change shape in response to the environment they are flying through.

The research team behind the drone said its wings help with maneuverability, as well as long-distance flight.

Also being researched at the University of Michigan, these biology-inspired wings would allow drones to better navigate an urban environment, when a drone must navigate sudden wind gusts, tunnels, and constrained environments. Researchers envision these urban drones sitting on a perch, like the ledge of a building, until they are called for.

References and Further Reading

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Brett Smith

Written by

Brett Smith

Brett Smith is an American freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Buffalo State College and has 8 years of experience working in a professional laboratory.

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