QinetiQ (Farnborough, UK) announced at the 2016 Farnborough International Airshow that it has developed a Shape Memory Alloy (SMA) comprised of high-energy absorbing titanium alloy wires woven into a carbon fiber composite.
QinetiQ carried out tests of the SMA, simulating collisions with an aircraft’s leading edges, such as the nose and wings, which showed a threefold increase in strength compared to normal carbon fibre of the same mass.
Tests conducted in collaboration with GE Aviation and the National Composites Centre (NCC) have shown similar potential for protecting against burst tires and debris that can be thrown up into the underside of an aircraft from a runway.
Statistics published by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reveal an average of more than 10,000 bird strikes per year since 2009, with the number rising each year. 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. Such damage costs the industry billions each year and, in the very worst cases, can lead to loss of life.
Andrew Foreman, head of engineering research & consultancy at QinetiQ, says, “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 travellers.