The aerospace industry is changing. Things are evolving. We’re moving away from the conventional world into something that seems brand new. What’s happening out there is nothing less than extraordinary.
Right at the top of the list of changes is the development of new materials. These promise to change the characteristics of aircraft, reinvent their design, and make them lightweight.
Right at the front of the pack are carbon nanotubes and graphene. Graphene is a single layer of hexagonally-bonded carbon atoms in a sheet. Researchers first discover it when lifting layers of graphite from pencils with bits of sticky tape (super high tech!) Likewise, carbon nanotubes are essentially graphene sheets rolled up into cigar-shapes. Both materials offer exceptional conductivity, strength and lightweightedness, making them perfect for aircraft.
Engineers, for instance, want to use carbon nanotubes for internal circuitry. They’re not only lighter than copper wire, but they also have less resistance. Greater conductivity means less energy loss and better aircraft efficiency.
Graphene has the potential to replace much of the aircraft’s chassis. This will make it stronger, lighter and more resistant to impact.
The full scope of new materials is still not yet known because the materials are still in development. Early signs, however, indicate that they may be able to change the shape of aircraft. They may also make them more resistant to friction caused by the rush of air at high speeds, permitting supersonic flight.
The way aircraft and airports work is changing. More autonomy is coming to vehicles and airport management, improving safety while reducing costs.
According to research, only around 20 percent of the world’s population can afford to fly. Everyone else lacks the income to do so.
Autonomy, though, could potentially change this. That’s because it promises to get rid of pilots and much of the ground control overhead that currently dogs the industry.
Autonomy is being made possible through advances in software. On the vehicular side of the equation, we’re seeing firms develop machine learning algorithms that can actually pilot and fly aircraft “gate to gate.” In other words, these vehicles don’t require any human intervention while on runways or in the air. What’s more, this technology is already real. Companies demonstrated that it worked last year.
We’re also seeing the growth of ground control autonomy. Airports no longer need to rely on humans monitoring airspace, checking that planes aren’t going to collide into each other. Instead, software is now able to do that by itself.
There are even improvements in how airports are dealing with more mundane aspects of their operations, such as baggage check in. Computerized systems ensure that luggage gets on the right flight and appears at the correct terminal upon arrival.
Until about five years ago, the idea that you could electrify all commercial cargo and passenger flights seemed ludicrous. However, with advances in battery technology, it may be possible.
Already, we have an example of an aircraft circumnavigating the globe powered entirely by batteries. It didn’t have a payload capacity, but it did prove the concept: you could get electric planes to fly.
This year, other firms are planning on launching all-electric short-haul flights based on conventional lithium-ion technology.
In the future though, the weight of batteries will come down. When this happens, it will make it possible for aircraft to fly for longer. We could see all-electric flight times of eight hours by 2030, which would be within spitting distance of the trans-Atlantic flight market.
We’re also seeing the emergence of hybrid electric aircraft. These aren’t hybrids in the sense of traditional car hybrids. There isn’t a fossil fuel-powered engine and a battery-powered one. Instead, these hybrid aircraft use battery power for all non-propulsive elements (such as their aerofoils or in-cabin entertainment). The hope is that this will begin the process of equipping aircraft with batteries so that it can become more commonplace in the future.
Lastly, the aerospace industry is fully embracing the concept of predictive maintenance. Companies want to be able to service vehicles before they go wrong to save money.
Predictive maintenance is another machine learning technology. Firms collect data on component lifetimes and then use this to inform their maintenance procedures. They also install sensors that can provide real-time data on components and suggest when they are likely to fail. Often, these sensors are much better at forecasting repair needs than expensive manual inspections.
If you’re interested in getting into the aerospace industry, now seems like a good time to make your move. Opportunities are available for businesses who can see the future coming.