Self-healing aircraft wings

Supplementary content information

Scientists have developed aircraft wings that can detect and repair small-scale damage to their structure.  

Professor Duncan Wass, from Bristol University, presented the research, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), at a scientific meeting organised by the UK's Catalysis Hub.

The event at the Royal Society highlighted the latest research into catalysis and how it can improve society with applications for energy and the environment. The UK's Catalysis Hub is funded by EPSRC with catalysis science supporting UK economic growth.

How the technology works:

Modern aircraft are made with carbon fibre-reinforced composites. These are high performance, lightweight and stiff making them an ideal material for aeroplanes or wind turbines. However, damage to the composite structure can be difficult to detect.

The researchers added microcapsules to the composite. If the aircraft wing is damaged these microcapsules rupture and come into contact with a catalyst. A chemical reaction takes place which causes hardening (polymerisation) to 'glue' together any cracks. The Wass Research Group says that this can give up to 100 per cent recovery of mechanical strength.

Professor Wass was interviewed in an exclusive by the Independent on Sunday.

In the interview he said he expected self-healing products to reach consumers in the “very near future” and said that inspiration came from the body's ability to heal itself by forming scabs.

The story was widely reported by the BBC, and many others.

Reference: PN 28-15