Composites Emerge as Popular Choice for Designing Aircrafts

The growing sophistication of aircrafts in both military and civilian segments is compelling researchers worldwide to innovate novel materials that reduce weight, maximize fuel efficiency and maintain aerodynamic balance for aircrafts.

“Composites are the answer for stronger aircraft materials because they are lightweight, flexible and resistant to high temperatures: all key characteristics aircraft design-engineers look for while selecting materials,” observes Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Vijay Shankar Murthy.

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Once composites offer a more favorable cost-to-benefit ratio, they are likely to emerge as strong candidates for retrofitting heavier aluminum or steel structural components in existing civilian and military aircrafts.

Researchers are also focusing on incorporating carbon nanotubes to make stronger and stiffer composites. While this technology has yet to leave laboratories, carbon nanotubes could find their way into A380s or a Boeing 747s by 2020.

Innovative efforts from the DuPont Electronic Technologies of the United States are popularizing the use of composites in space exploration aircrafts. The company uses Pyralux laminates and composites to replace conventional bulky round wires and cables in spacecrafts.

These materials can provide savings in large volumes while making the spacecraft light, durable, with high environmental resistance and with better bend and twist flexibility.

Major companies are also focusing on developing more multi-functional primary flight displays that not only increase flight safety but also improve overall navigational capabilities.

“Micro-displays satisfy the need to display large amounts of information in small areas with high resolution and are competing vigorously with conventional cathode ray tube panels for cockpit displays,” says Murthy.

Audios with visual displays are also an emerging trend in aerospace technologies. Honeywell International’s low-cost Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS), provides pilots with different color codes according to the terrain’s elevation and gives audible and visual alerts in case of an imminent collision.

NASA researchers are studying advanced concepts that will allow pilots to fly and land safely in extremely low-visibility conditions. This will increase the number of flights in poor weather, reduce terminal delays and cut costs for the airline industry.

Apart from innovative displays, researchers need to work toward reducing noise and pollution from aircraft engines, especially after the signing of the Kyoto Protocol.

“While the trend in the aerospace industry seems to be to move to greener blends of aviation fuel, the aircraft engine itself must be kept in mind while attempting to reduce green-house gas emissions,” points out Murthy.

Engines also need to resist the fluctuating temperature during a flight and offer higher thrust (produced by the compression of the incoming air).

While many research programs focus on turbojets, ramjets, turboprops and engines for supersonic aircraft, turbojets prove to provide higher compression ratios (about 25 percent higher than other types) and therefore greater thrust.

In the future, the aerospace industry will have to keep a close watch on developments in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Remote controlled UAVs are already popular and with advances in airframe materials and guidance & propulsion systems, UAVs might just be ‘next big thing’ for reconnaissance operations, mine exploration, weather mapping and artificial intelligence.

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