Self-Healing Planes Fix Themselves in Mid-Flight

By Andrew Moseman | May 19, 2008 3:41 pm

Aircraft MaintenanceWhen you get a cut on your arm, blood will clot around it to stop
the bleeding. British engineers have borrowed that natural defense and adapted it for another purpose – fixing planes while they’re still in the air.

Airplanes get little cracks or holes not only from impacts, like an unfriendly meeting with a stone or a bird, but also from simple wear and tear. Many are too small for the naked eye to see. So a team led by Ian Bond at Bristol University in the U.K. mimicked the way human bodies protect themselves in an attempt to create a self-healing plane.


They took a kind of glue made from epoxy resin and embedded tubes of it inside fiber-reinforced polymers, building materials that can be used in many parts of a plane’s body. The tubes are like blood vessels – when the plane gets punctured, the resin oozes out, hardens, and patches the hole.

The self-fix is only 80 to 90 percent as strong as the original, so in some cases mechanics might want to replace the piece of metal rather than fly with a patch. The Bristol engineers dyed the resin with a pigment that shows up only under ultraviolet light. If they need to know whether the plane healed itself, they turn on the black lights, find the holes and perform a more permanent fix.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
MORE ABOUT: Materials Science
NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Discoblog

Quirky, funny, and surprising science news from the edge of the known universe.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »