Lonely Planet Writer

Future of flight: aircraft wings to heal themselves in midair

British scientists have come up with a way for aircraft wings to fix themselves after being damaged.

Next generation technology will see aircraft wings self-heal when damaged during flights
Next generation technology will see aircraft wings self-heal when damaged during flights Image by Sarah Tzinieris / CC BY 2.0

The researchers admit that their discovery is bordering on science fiction as they claim such ‘self-healing technology’ is now ready to be rolled out.

The London Independent on Sunday reported that the findings, which will be aired at a Royal Society meeting this week in London, will also highlight among other things how a cure for cracked mobile phone screens or self-healing hail polish will be unveiled.

The team of researchers at the University of Bristol say they have been developing this new round of technology for over three years. Professor Duncan Wass, the leader of the scientific team, is adamant that these self-healing products would hit the high streets very soon.

They specialise in modifying carbon-fibre composite material. With its lightweight yet roboust components, it is now used in virtually everything from high-performance bicycles to commercial aircraft wings and sports racquets.

The Wass team worked alongside aerospace engineers at the university to see if there was a way to prevent the small, almost unseen, cracks that form in the wings and fuselage of aircraft.

Adding really small, hollow microspheres to the carbon material help it release a liquid healing agent. This solution seeps into the damaged areas and when there is a chemical reaction, it hardens.

Professor Wass said they took inspiration from the human body where skin -if it gets damaged – bleeds before it scabs and then heals. He said they put a similar function into a synthetic material so that it could heal itself.

When his team carried out tests, they found the material was just as strong after the process as before.

This has now thrown up the real possibility of a damaged aircraft wing ‘healing’ itself in mid-flight should something such as a bird strike occur.