At the 2016 Farnborough International Air Show, British defense company QinetiQ unveiled a material – a Shape Memory Alloy (SMA), woven into a carbon fiber reinforced polymer – which it says can help reduce the impact of aircraft crashes.
Andrew Foreman, Head of Engineering Research & Consultancy at QinetiQ, said: “Most existing safety measures require extra material to be added to vulnerable areas, adding mass and compromising the aircraft’s efficiency. QinetiQ’s patented composite would enable operators to meet or exceed the same high regulatory standards without adding mass. A lighter aircraft uses less fuel, providing opportunities for lower emissions, higher airline profits, and reduced fares for travelers.”
The material is made with high-energy absorbing titanium alloy wires, a Shape Memory Alloy (SMA), woven into a carbon fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP). It works by absorbing the energy of an impact, spreading it across a wide surface area, before bouncing back to its original shape.
The material was initially designed for aircraft, which QinetiQ says can strengthen the wings and nose of aircraft by up to three times. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there has been an average of over 10,000 bird strikes per year since 2009, with the number rising each consecutive year. As QinetiQ explains, an aircraft can be struck by lightning up to twice a year and runway debris can cause tires to burst and impact critical aircraft components. That type of damage can be fatal and cost the aviation industry billions each year.
QinetiQ has conducted tests in collaboration with GE Aviation and the National Composites Centre (NCC), which have shown similar potential for protecting against burst tires and other debris that can be thrown up into the underside of an aircraft from a runway. The material has also been tested against the highest lightning strike threat level, and is said to eliminate the need for additional lightning strike meshes.
The material has also drawn interest from the automotive industry. For more information, check out the video below: