Achieving the IATA goals of emissions reduction will require radical innovation. In addition to improved aerodynamics and more fuel-efficient engines, reducing the weight of the aircraft structure is a vital target for aircraft manufacturers. To continue to drive down aircraft weight requires significant advances in the efficient application of existing materials and, looking further to the future, the development of innovative materials offering a dramatically improved performance. You can find detailed information about this on our Green Aviation Booklet.
Improving the understanding of aerospace materials
To fully exploit the potential of a material and so enable the design of optimum, low weight aircraft structures, it is important to thoroughly understand how that material will behave when subjected to the stresses and environment that will be encountered during operation of the aircraft. Improving the understanding of aerospace materials is a major research activity at Imperial.
Imperial has been extensively involved in research into the performance of composite materials for over 30 years. Major areas of composites research include understanding and characterising the failure processes in these materials, development of characterisation test methods, impact behaviour of composite structures (from drop-weight to ballistic impacts), and the performance of joints and other features of composite structures. .
Modelling for more efficient design
The design process for modern, fuel efficient civil aircraft is complex, costly and time consuming. Modelling tools which accurately simulate the behaviour of aircraft structures can significantly reduce the design time and also greatly reduce the reliance on expensive physical testing during the investigation and development of design solutions. Modelling tools are therefore vital in the drive towards optimal low weight aircraft and their development and application constitute a major research focus at Imperial College London.
New materials for the future
Better use of the capabilities of current high performance materials is already producing lighter aircraft structures but further weight reduction in the future will increasingly be dependent upon the development of new improved materials. At Imperial, the main drive in this area is to create materials with significantly enhanced mechanical performance but the potential for added functionality is also receiving considerable attention.