Last updated: 02:06 PM ET, Mon June 22 2015

Will Planes Be Able to Heal Themselves Like the Terminator?

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | June 22, 2015

Will Planes Be Able to Heal Themselves Like the Terminator?

Photo via YouTube/Paramount Pictures

Normally we might say this sounds very futuristic, but in this day and age of ever-evolving technology, this is the future.

According to a fascinating report from CNN, a group of scientists from Bristol University in England might have cracked the code on carbon fiber-reinforced composite materials, enabling them to heal any cracks in an airplane’s wing during flight.

The process is not dissimilar from a cut on a human body where the skin heals itself.

Only this would be much quicker.

"Our approach here is to take the inspiration from the human body in that if we get damaged, we have the mechanisms to repair that damage," professor Duncan Wass, the lead researcher on the project along with professor Ian Bond and Dr. Richard Trask, told CNN. "If you cut your finger, eventually it will heal, so we thought, can we apply that sort of idea to these man-made structures? So that's what we've done.”

The trio has created tiny micro-spheres -- hollow capsules so small that several could fit across the width of the human hair -- which are filled with a healing agent and then planted into the composite material. If a piece of the plane is damaged, the spheres open on impact and spread a liquid welding agent into the crack. The welding agent then “glues” the crack together.

For now, the technology is only good enough to repair the smallest of cracks.

"The problem we have is that if an airplane is flying, it's very cold when you're at high altitude, or it might be on runway in Dubai and it's 40 degrees, and actually getting it to heal the same across those temperatures is the technical challenge that we have," Wass told CNN.

CNN noted that airplane manufacturer Boeing has spent a number of years researching self-healing coating and other related technologies.

"However, it is too early to speculate how research in this area may be incorporated into any product or service," says a spokesman.


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