Not surprisingly, civil aircraft get hit by lightning on a fairly regular basis. With traditional metallic underwing components, aircraft have benefited from a natural conductor that safeguards the aircraft exterior. Because carbon fiber doesn’t conduct electricity, a bolt of lightning could potentially rupture whatever CFRP component it hits.
Today, the risk is addressed by adding a copper mesh into the composite structure that aids the electricity in flowing through the aircraft without causing major damage. But that mesh adds weight. A nanoparticle additive to the CFRP wing presents an opportunity to eliminate the risk of damage while reducing overall aircraft weight and, consequently, improving fuel efficiency.
Nanoparticles also present an opportunity for adding shielding from electromagnetic interference. Interference can come from events ranging from lightning to solar flares to communication devices, and can damage electronic systems. That interference has been traditionally mitigated by encapsulating the aircraft in conductive metal.
“You don’t want to have to wrap every piece of avionics in a metal box to shield you from potential electromagnetic interference,” Hills points out. Yet, essentially, that has been the strategy, even if that “metal box” is found integrated as a mesh within the wing or other components.
On a broader scale, aerospace designers are looking at how a future wing might perform differently as designers stop viewing CRFP materials under the lens of metallic performance properties.
Already the largely CFRP A350 XWB wing adds to the aerodynamic performance through new improvements such as the ability to adapt while airborne. Pilots are able to move the flaps not only for take-off and landing, but also while cruising in order to reduce wing drag and boost aerodynamic efficiency during various phases of flight. The wing design has also been streamlined with features such as adaptive dropped-hinge flaps, which increase the aircraft’s efficiency at low speeds. In addition, Airbus notes that the wings can produce more lift and automatically handle loads across their surface, which helps to further reduce the aircraft’s drag and fuel burn.
It’s a rethinking that has broad implications for the future of air travel. But as companies like Airbus and Boeing pour more money into solutions to production efficiency solutions, it’s a rethinking that could have major benefits for all industries exploring composites as a viable material.
As a leading user of composites technology, aerospace is a great market to penetrate – but it’s not easy. ACMA’s High Performance Council (HPC) provides education and marketing opportunities surrounding advanced composites, which are used in demanding applications across industries, including aerospace. To join the HPC or for more information, contact Sarah Boyer, manager of the Composites Growth Initiative Committees, at email@example.com or 703-682-1653.