Carbon nanotubes take flight in aerobatic aircraft

Unidym has announced flight of an aircraft that uses the company's carbon nanotubes for increased strength and flexibility to combat the effects of aerodynamic stress and engine vibration.

Unidym Inc. (Menlo Park, Calif.), a majority-owned subsidiary of Arrowhead Research Corp. has announced the flight of an aircraft incorporating Unidym's carbon nanotubes for increased strength and flexibility to combat the effects of aerodynamic stress and engine vibration. On April 11, Avalon Aviation's Giles G-200 aircraft flew with Unidym's carbon nanotubes incorporated into its carbon fiber composite engine cowling. The Giles G-200 is a high-performance, single-engine, fully aerobatic carbon composite aircraft.

High-performance aerobatic aircraft are often the industry's test bed for new airframe technology. They are generally subject to increased levels of vibration and stress which typically induce cracking in airframe components. A cowling experiences a variety of stresses from increased G-force and gyroscopic forces as the aircraft is flown to the limit of its performance envelope.

"We are delighted that Avalon Aviation decided to incorporate Unidym's carbon nanotubes into this sophisticated, state-of-the-art aircraft,"noted Arthur Swift, Unidym's president and CEO. "For some time now the aerospace industry has been looking into the structural use of carbon nanotubes in high performance, composite airframes. To our knowledge this successful flight is the first time carbon nanotubes have actually been flown as part of a major composite component of an aircraft's fuselage.”

Avalon Aviation applied carbon nanotechnology to this problem in order to increase the strength, while retaining flexibility, and also to reduce the density of the resin used in the cowling's carbon fiber composite material. This weight reduction is a significant secondary benefit as the Giles G-200 typically experiences between +10 and -10 times the force of gravity as it performs some of the most difficult aerobatic maneuvers possible for a human piloted aircraft. Avalon Aviation's Giles G-200 is flown by nationally recognized US competitive aerobatics pilot, Greg Howard.

"We've applied Unidym's technology in a critical area of the Giles G-200,"said Greg Howard, chief pilot and co-owner of Avalon Aviation. "We are constantly looking for ways to reduce any potential composite failures due to vibration and other forms of stress. We are excited about potential composite applications of carbon nanotechnology and look forward to learning more from this initial application in order to expand the use of nanotubes elsewhere in our aircraft.”

Avalon Aviation's Giles G-200 will be flown in several major air shows this year. It will also fly in a number of competitive aerobatic events this summer and in the US National Aerobatic Championships in September.