Airplane: Milos Radakovich

Airplanes used to be made of
wood, leather and canvas. Modern
aircraft use lightweight steel,
aluminum and titanium. At this
writing, fiberglass, Kevlar and carbon
fiber composites are increasingly
taking the place of metals in
critical airframe structures.

But don’t count metals out just yet. British scientists at the University
of Liverpool have revealed a process that can significantly
reduce the weight of titanium, stainless steel and other metals.

Unlike conventional solid-metal components, the new parts have
a porous, lattice-like structure, similar to scaffolding, but with
support rods twice the diameter of a human hair, making them
ultra-light. Because loads are channeled along the rods and opposing
surfaces, structural components can comprise up to 70
percent air while remaining strong enough to do the job.

Scientists say that such components could replace solid metal in
integrated circuits, automotive applications and other fields of
engineering. Aircraft parts, for example, could be produced that
are more than 50 percent lighter than conventional alternatives.

The world’s first commercial-scale system for the rapid manufacture
of such new-generation metal components is being developed
by engineers at the University of Liverpool. The new manufacturing
system initially went into commercial use in 2006, but
it may be years before the new materials find their way onto the
production lines.

If these materials can indeed function safely while being mostly
empty space, this could lend a whole new meaning to the term
“AIRplane.”

Milos Radakovich

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