Self-healing wings

When planes cruise at 500 miles per hour, any tiny fracture in the wings could spell big trouble. So, to protect jets from hazardous cracks and chips, engineers have devised a way to let broken wings mend themselves.

Aerospace researchers at Bristol University in England have created a fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) that contains little glass tubes – some filled with an epoxy resin, others with a hardener. If the polymer rips or tears mid-flight, the resin inside seeps out and mixes with the hardener to seal the crack. Once dry, the self-repaired material maintains up to 90 percent of its original strength, the team says.

Project leader Ian Bond stressed that this special FRP would not replace thorough inspections, but could be used in planes, cars, and wind turbines to temporarily repair damage that’s too small for the naked eye to spot. Engineers could make the epoxy a different color from the rest of the craft, allowing the patches to be more noticeable when the plane goes in for service.

The research is funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

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