Over 2.2 billion people travel by air every year, and the aeronautics industry faces the challenge of constantly having to innovate in order to improve flight performance, reduce energy consumption and mitigate the other impacts of the industry. The European Union is supporting a number of multi-country projects with a view to finding new solutions in aero-manufacturing and organisation. One example is the SESAR programme launched in 2004, which has set up a collaborative platform for flight simulation in order to improve air traffic by 2020. More recently, the SARISTU (Smart Intelligent Aircraft Structures) project has been focusing on ‘intelligent’ design techniques which aim to reduce development time and costs in aerospace manufacturing. SARISTU, which was launched in September 2011, has so far received €32 million in funding under the EU 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. The project uses new concepts in aerodynamics to reduce aircraft weight and operational costs, plus making improvements in flight profile-specific aerodynamic performance.
Nanotechnology enabling improvements in aerodynamic performance
The SARISTU consortium comprises 65 partners, research centres and companies in the aircraft industry from all over Europe. Many different activities are taking place in parallel under the overall project heading, one of them being focusing on the design of manoeuvrable aircraft wingtips. Being able to change the form of the wing during flight boosts air resistance. To make this possible, researchers have developed a new material composed of resin reinforced by carbon nanotubes for use in connecting the mobile part of the wing to the fixed part. The special feature of these nanotubes is that they preserve their elasticity even at low temperatures and very high wind speed. In addition, compared to the traditional fixed wing approach, using nanotubes can reduce the total weight of the aircraft by up to 3%.
Exploiting the vast potential of nanotechnology
The SARISTU project is due for completion in 2015 and results to date have been promising. The project demonstrates clearly the value of integrating smart concepts into aircraft design. Nanotechnologies clearly have enormous potential to improve efficiency and performance in the aeronautics industry in several respects. The consortium has shown that making use of a range of new materials could lead to a 6% reduction in aircraft fuel consumption and one of the additional benefits of incorporating these new technologies could be a reduction of 15% in the cost of installing electrical networks. Smart planes would therefore appear to be just around the corner. Meanwhile, nanotechnologies are making a contribution to development in the medicaland satellite sectors. The European Union is also providing support to EuroTraining, an online training platform whose purpose is to improve EU industrial competitiveness by offering group courses on nanotechnologies for company personnel.
By Eliane HONG July 17, 2014