Graphene is a material characterized by its incredibly small thickness. It is very interesting too as it is about 100 times stronger than the strongest steel, is nearly transparent, conducts heat and electricity. But it looks like scientists never stop finding new uses for it as in Farnborough Air Show 2016 visitors will witness the world’s first public flights of an unmanned aircraft partly skinned in graphene.
These flights are the result of long work of a team of scientists from the University of Central Lancashire and The University of Manchester’s National Graphene Institute. Although the aircraft in question, named Prospero, is quite small, it has big points to prove.
Scientists say that graphene-skinned wings are helping them test potential applications of this material in aerospace, striving for drag reduction, better thermal management and ultimately the ability to achieve lightning strike protection. Graphene is also extremely strong, yet lightweight and flexible, which makes it perfect for such applications.
This new unmanned aircraft is also helping scientists to test methods of infusing graphene into composite structures. So far, initial testing proved that such material shows 60% better impact resistance than conventionally-skinned carbon fibre wing. Why this technology is going to be showcased in an air show? Well, scientists are thinking that similar applications and experiments will bring UK to the leading positions of graphene industry, which is growing very quickly, even though this material is very new. Therefore, introducing this technology to public is very important to make sure society knows about it and supports such efforts.
Besides its technological peculiarities and huge ambitions of the research team, it is also very interesting because of how fast this area of the research is developing. Pace is as incredibly quick as Dr Darren Ansell, one of the engineers participating in the project, described in this sentence – “Although our research road map covers a twenty year period it’s quite possible that the aerospace industry could begin using graphene within the next twelve months”. We can only imagine what other applications for this curious material will be found in the near future.