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During flight, aircraft parts are subject to varying loads, and can develop cracks in high-
stress areas. If structural parts are not regularly inspected and repaired, cracks could
increase, eventually causing structural failure and loss of life.

But aircraft inspection and repairs are costly to airlines. Moreover, high fuel prices and
international efforts on climate change have brought attention to the need for greater fuel
efficiency. Increasing international competition favors the rapid, low-cost production of
reliable, efficient, and easy-to-maintain aircraft capable of increased load and range. In
short, the aerospace industry faces a challenge: to develop advanced materials that are
simultaneously stronger, lighter, safer, fuel-efficient, and cost-effective.

With nanotechnology, it now may be possible to create almost perfect materials that can
increase performance and passenger safety while saving significant money.

Improving Aluminum

Aluminum alloys have long been materials of choice for aircraftfuselages. But viewing the
microstructure of a typical aerospace aluminum alloy through an electron microscope
reveals that the arrangement of atoms is far from perfect. Dislocations, grain boundaries,
and voids all weaken an alloy.

Indeed, analysis reveals that the theoretical strength of a defect-free aluminum alloy can be
100 times greater than actual measurements in a mechanical testing lab. That suggests that
fabricating defect-free aluminum alloys could allow structural parts of required strength to
be made of less material, and thus be lighter weight.

Perfect alloys could be produced using an atomic force microscope or a scanning tunneling
microscope to position the arrangement of individual atoms without voids, displacements,
and other defects. Such capability was demonstrated as far back as 1989, when researchers
at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose were able to spell out their company's name
in xenon atoms. More recently, researchers at the same lab were able to measure, down to
the piconewton, how much force was required to move a cobalt atom across a copper

Exploring Composites

Composite materialsthose in which fibers, commonly of carbon, are embedded in a

matrix of resin or other polymer-are increasingly used for structural components in
aircraft and space vehicles. Composites are exceptionally light and strong. But their
behavior is not yet well understood in the presence of damage by lightning (composites
have poor electrical conductivity), exposure to the suns ultraviolet rays, or delamination
caused by out-of-plane load, impact, or moisture.

A composite in which nanoparticles are dispersed into the polymermatrix may be more
resistant to fracture and fatigue. Distributing nanoparticles throughout a polymermatrix is
quite difficult, however, and strong chemical bonding between the nanotubes and the matrix
are essential to the ultimate performance of the nanocomposite material. Because
experimental trial-and-error is costly and time-consuming, multiscale modeling may prove
useful in establishing a link between the nanoscale chemistry and a material's macroscopic
behavior when subjected to flight load.

The Bottom Line

That such advanced materials are possible is not enough to warrant their use. They must
also be cost effective to employ. A back-of-the-envelope calculation reveals that advanced
materials, even if quite expensive, are economically viable to research and develop.

Consider a simple cost analysis for the fuel consumption of a typical commercial aircraft
for a nonstop flight from Los Angeles to New York. The total weight of a medium-range
aircraft after takeoff is approximately 500,000 pounds, including the 40,000-gallon weight
of fuel; that yields a gallons-per-pound ratio for this aircraft of 40,000/500,000, or 0.08

Assuming there is a 20 percent reduction in weight as a result of new nanoscale-assembled

aluminum alloys or nanoparticle-reinforced composite materials, let us calculate the total
monetary savings during the life of the aircraft:

[The gallon/lb. ratio (0.08)] x [The cost of jet fuel (typically $5 per gallon)] x
[The weight savings (500,000 pounds times 20 percent, or 100,000 pounds)] x
[The number of flights in the life of the plane (about 60,000)]

The savings is an astonishing $2.4 billion per plane. Furthermore, if we assume the total
number of aircraft that will be fabricated with the new material is conservatively estimated
to be 1,000, then the total monetary savings throughout the life of a 1,000-aircraft fleet will
be almost $2.4 trillion.

I am optimistic that advanced aerospace materials for lighter-weight aircraft are worth the
investment. The fuel savings would be significant for airlines, while increasing strength and

[Adapted from Can Nanotechnology Make for Greener Aerospace? by

BahramFarahmand, for Mechanical Engineering, March 2010.]

Aerospace(Aeroespacio). Is the human effort in science, engineering and

business to fly in the atmosphere of Earth (aeronautics) and surrounding space

Aircraft(Aeronave).is a machine that is able to fly by gaining support from the

air. It counters the force of gravity by using either static lift or by using the
dynamic lift of an airfoil, or in a few cases the downward thrust from jet

Atomic(Atmico).Related to the uses of the effects of the energy contained in

the nucleus of the atom: Atomic bomb; Atomic weight.

Atoms(Atomos).Is the smallest constituent unit of ordinary matter that has the
properties of a chemical element. Every solid, liquid, gas, and plasma is
composed of neutral or ionized atoms.

Electron(Electrn).Is a subatomic particle with a negative elemental electric


Fuselage (Fuselaje).Is an aircraft's main body section that holds crew and
passengers or cargo.

Matrix (Matriz).It is a piece, or a set of pieces coupled, internally hollow but

with the details and external imprints of the future solid that you want to

Microstructure(Microestructura). Is the small scale structure of a material,

defined as the structure of a prepared surface of material as revealed by a
microscope above 25 magnification.

Nanotechnology(Nanotecnologia).) Is manipulation of matter on an atomic,

molecular, and supramolecular scale.

Nanocomposite(Nanocompuesto).Is a multiphase solid material where one

of the phases has one, two or three dimensions of less than 100 nanometers
(nm), or structures having nano-scale repeat distances between the different
phases that make up the material.
Nanoparticle(Nanopartculas).Is a microscopic particle with at least one
dimension less than 100 nm

Nanoscale(Nanoescala).Its a scale of measurement that uses nanometers or

microns as units of measure

Nanotubes (Naotubos). Is a kind of nanoparticle, and may be large enough to

serve as a pipe through which other nanoparticles can be channeled, or,
depending on the material, may be used as an electrical conductor or an
electrical insulator.

Polymer (Polmero). Itsa compound of high molecular weight derived either

by the addition of many smaller molecules, as polyethylene, or by the
condensation of many smaller molecules with the elimination of water,
alcohol, or the like, as nylon.

ultraviolet rays (Rayos ultraviolet). They are a type of invisible energy emitted
by the sun and are part of the spectrum of light.

Xenon (Xenn).Its a chemical element of the periodic table whose symbol is

Xe and its atomic number 54.

Benjamin Ruiz C.I. 27.947.275 Seccin.SV