Composite aircraft fuselages could be made lighter and stronger by incorporating nanotubes, which can also improve the mechanical, thermal, and electrical properties of structures, as well as offering better resistance to static charge build-up.

The nanotubes, each just a few atoms across, are applied using the newly patented Sol-gel process developed for the ceramics industry. The patent describes how a polymer gel arranges the nanotubes in arrays across a treated material's surface. Sol-gel processing provides treated epoxy resin and carbonfibre with improved characteristics.

"It will be a few years before you'll be flying in [nanotube-improved composite fuselages]," says Dr Alan Rae, vice-president marketing and business development for New York-based Nanodynamics. "We have operated a process on a pilot scale so far. The process is scalable. We are very excited."

Nanotubes, because of their small size, have been difficult to create in usefully large quantities and before the Sol-gel patented method have resisted manipulation and organisation. Following the new patent the company is already talking to aerospace component manufacturers, but due to non-disclosure agreements cannot name them.

Source: Flight International