Composites project to extend useful life of aircraft

A European research project aims to extend the life of aircraft and reduce the cost of repairs by developing composite patches that can be applied to aluminium and compound materials.

A combination of an ageing existing fleet and the introduction of materials such as composites into the primary structure of modern aircraft like the A380 and the future B787 has created a pressing need to develop new technologies for repairing damaged areas of the aircraft structure.

Technology corporation Tecnalia is leading this work under the EU-funded IAPETUS project, with the goal of applying the technology in the European aeronautics industry. The research focuses on introducing multi-functional composite materials, using carbon nanotubes, both into the matrix of the composite material as well as into the adhesive; thus achieving an easy, reliable and economically viable repair.

The nano-phase will improve the tenacity of the fracture and the fatigue of the composite. Also, it is expected that the nanotubes will confer the necessary electrical conductivity to the join between the damaged component and the patch, in order to obtain the uniform hardening of the polymer matrix: this can be produced by the polymer matrix through heating by induction or electrical resistance and which confers conducting and sensor properties to the repair patch in order for in-service faults to be detected.

Ten companies from France, Greece, Poland, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Spain are represented in the consortium: aeronautic structures and component manufacturers (DAHER Aerospace, Hellenic Aerospace Industry and PZL-Swidnik SA); repair technologies’ equipment (GMI Aero); resins for composite materials (Hurtsman Advanced Materials), as well as a number of universities (Patras, Ioannina and Sheffield) and technological centres, (INASCO and INASMET-Tecnalia).

Tecnalia’s mission, apart from project leader, will be to develop the hardening materials and techniques and those for fault detection.

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