As the aviation industry attempts to reduce fuel costs by reducing the weight of aircraft, lightweight composite materials with extraordinary strength continue to be developed and improved. Carbon-fiber composites have been created that can match the strength of titanium and aluminum, while being much lighter in weight, to the extent that aircraft using these composites materials can weigh of up 20 percent less than they would otherwise. Both the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 contain carbon-fiber composites.
Researchers looking at creating even stronger and lighter materials are working with carbon fibers that are coated with carbon nanotubes. When arranged in specific configurations, these tiny tubes of crystalline carbon are hundreds of times stronger than steel while being only around one-sixth of the weight of steel. Until recently scientists faced the problem that when growing carbon nanotubes on carbon fibers the underlying fibers have lost some of their strength. The root cause of this fiber degradation has been identified by a team of researchers from MIT, and techniques have been devised to preserve the strength of these fibers.
Associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, Brian Wardle, notes that up until now one part of the material was being improved at the expense of the underlying fiber, but the new technique does away with this trade-off situation, with both the carbon nanotubes and carbon fibers maintaining their integrity.
Upon visiting carbon-fiber production plants in Germany, Japan and Tennessee, researchers found that the manufacture process required fibers to be stretched close to breaking point and heated to high temperatures, which had not been replicated in laboratory conditions. Upon replicating these conditions in the laboratory and carrying out a series of experiments it was discovered that the main cause of fiber degradation was a mechanochemical reaction resulting from a lack of tension when heating carbon fibers at a high temperature.
Having identified the problem, researchers coated the carbon fiber with a layer of alumina ceramic to ensure the iron catalyst would stick to the fiber but not degrade it. However, the alumina kept flaking off. Undaunted, the research team developed a polymer coating with both hydrophilic and hydrophobic components and coated the fibers with it, allowing them to grow nanotubes without damaging the fiber. Further experiments resulted in growing nanotubes at lower temperatures, thereby avoiding damage to the underlying fiber. Patents have been filed for the nanotube growing techniques and hopes are high that these new composite materials will have a wide range of applications in the aerospace industry.
As lightweight composite materials and advanced aviation technology enable larger aircraft to take to the skies, it’s interesting to note that the largest airplane in the history of aviation, measured by maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is Ukraine’s Antonov An-225 Mriya. Designed in the 1980s by the Soviet Union’s Antonov Design Bureau, the airplane took its first flight on December 21, 1988. It was featured at the Paris Air Show in 1989, as well as the Farnborough air show in 1990, where it demonstrated its capabilities by taking-off and landing with the Soviet Buran – an orbital vehicle similar to the renowned US Space Shuttle – on board.
The An-225 was specifically designed to transport the Soviet Buran spacecraft, and when the Soviet space program was abandoned in the 1990s the airplane was put into storage for a time, but later reinstated into service as a cargo jet. With its 46,000 cubic feet (1,300 cubic meters) of cargo space the An-225 is capable of transporting five military tanks, or 50 automobiles, over a distance of 3,000 miles. In September 2001, the An-25 took off carrying 4 battle tanks recorded at 253.82 tons, flying at an altitude of 6,600 feet over a distance of 620 miles at an average speed of 474.2 mph.
With a 640 ton gross weight, the An-225 it is acknowledged to be the heaviest aircraft in the world, and it has a maximum takeoff weight of 1.32 million pounds, or 600,000 kilograms. By comparison the Airbus A380 can take off carrying around 1.24 million pounds, the heaviest of all passenger aircraft.
The An-225’s first commercial flight was in January 2002, flying from Stuttgart, Germany, to Thumrait, Oman, where it delivered 216,000 prepared meals to American military personnel. It has since been employed in transporting emergency supplies to disaster struck areas, and delivering items such as locomotives, massive generators and a range of military supplies. It has transported the heaviest single cargo item ever airfreighted – a generator weighing 420,000 pounds to an Armenian power plant, as well as the longest piece of air cargo ever delivered – two 42-meter wind turbine blades from Tianjin in China to Denmark. In March 2012 it was used to transport equipment from Calgary in Canada to Nigeria that would previously have been sent by sea. The equipment was urgently needed to prevent dangerous gas flaring in Nigeria’s oil industry. The An-225 appeared in the 2004 Guinness Book of Records for 240 record-setting achievements. The An-225 is one-of-a-kind, with a second airplane started but reportedly never completed.
Monday, 18 April 2011, was a big day for both China and Boeing, as the plans to construct an addition to their existing factory were unveiled. Aviation Industries Corporation of China, along with Boeing, has entered into a joint venture that will see a new division of the factory in Tianjin produce more composites for the aviation industry. The factory, known as Boeing Tianjin Composites Co, will be able to expand with the $21 million investment Boeing has made, and the factory will be able to run at full production capacity by the year 2013.
Boeing Tianjin Composites has been vital to the production of components used on a variety of Boeing’s aircraft, such as the 777, 737, 747-8 and 787. Companies such as Goodrich, Korean Aerospace Industries and Hexcel rely on Boeing Tianjin Composites to provide them with the components they need. Outsourcing is no longer a questionable route to go for major companies, and it is estimated that almost nine thousand six hundred aircraft are dependent on the parts supplied by China. Current value of the partnership that the Chinese aviation industry has with Boeing is estimated at $2.5 billion. The expansion of the factory is a positive gesture for China, as they believe that it will encourage Boeing to assist the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China with their new venture, which is the production of an aircraft named the C919. It will be a passenger jet aircraft, and if all goes well and according to schedule, the aircraft will be ready for release by the latest 2014.
Commenting on the new addition to the factory, Boeing Supply Chain Management and Operations General Manager, Ray Conner, commented: “It is win-win cooperation. Our Chinese partner will provide high quality components to increase Boeing’s capacity, which in turn boosts our employment in China.” The new addition, which covers an area of fifty-five thousand square meters and provides floor space of twenty-five thousand square meters, will increase employment. To date, Boeing’s involvement in China, with direct and related businesses, has already created approximately twenty thousand employment opportunities within the country.
Cirrus Design was originally founded in 1984 as a kit plane manufacturer. Today, Cirrus produces the SR20 and SR22 single-engine piston aircraft that feature an emergency deployable parachute known as the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS). In 1998, Cirrus received FAA Type Certification for the four-seat SR20 which is built from composite materials. In 2000, Type Certification was awarded to Cirrus for the SR22, a faster aircraft than the SR20, and with more available options.
Cirrus Design has also contributed to the development of the Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (TUAV) for the U.S. Department of Defense. Cirrus was responsible for manufacturing the empennage, wings, and fuselage.
In celebration of the company’s 85th anniversary, Finnair has created a whole array of concept aircraft designed to provide a possible glimpse into the future of aviation. The collection is based mainly on current trends to create more environmentally friendly aircraft technology and to use lightweight materials.
There has been a lot of excitement at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Applied Materials Research IFAM, located in Bremen, where researchers have been hard at work developing a new, hybrid way to bond lightweight aircraft materials.
These days it seems that new airplanes are being unveiled every day and Airbus certainly isn’t missing out on the action. After a glittering unveiling ceremony in Spain on June 26, Airbus unveiled their new A400M military transport plane.
With everyone looking for newer, more efficient and versatile vehicles it seems transport of all sorts is undergoing a sort of revolution. Almost every single car, ship and airplane development company seems to be experimenting with new and exciting ways to go green and Falx Air certainly isn’t being left behind on the technological band-wagon.
A recent breakthrough in biomimics could bring about self-repairing aircraft. The technique, which is being developed in Britain, essentially mimics the natural healing process found in plants and animals. Though still in the testing and development phase, if the new research is used it could have a lot of positive implications for the aeronautics industry.
Located in the city of Pasewalk, about a one-hour drive from Berlin, Germany, Remos Aircraft GmbH is turning out technologically advanced light sport aircraft that are gaining ground in a competitive market. The Remos G-3 combines the latest in aviation technologies and materials with the highest levels of German craftsmanship and quality, which the manufacturers guarantee will deliver uncompromising reliability along with high value retention.