by DAVID AXE
In June, the U.S. Air Force flew a new experimental plane. The Advanced Composite Cargo Aircraft combines the front section of a Dornier 328 freighter with a brand-new aft section made from special composite materials. The idea was to assemble a plane from big, pre-shaped composite pieces, in order to reduce the total number of parts from 3,000 to just 300. In theory, this makes the aircraft stronger, as planes tend to “break” at the joins between major structural pieces.
Imagine a near future where planes are assembled using just a handful of parts. Imagine farther in the future, where one-piece planes are “grown” or die-cast from special materials. It’s not so far-fetched, according to one scientist. Herzl Chai, a professor in Tel Aviv, is studying human teeth to understand how they stay so strong over decades. He hopes to one day build airplanes the same way.
“Teeth exhibit graded mechanical properties and a cathedral-like geometry, and over time they develop a network of micro-cracks which help diffuse stress,” Chai told Wired.co.uk. “This, and the tooth’s built-in ability to heal the micro-cracks over time, prevents it from fracturing into large pieces when we eat hard food, like nuts.”
One-piece, tooth-like planes would actually get stronger over their very, very long lifetimes. Ideally, you’d build an all-but-eternal airframe, and swap out new electronics and engines every few years or decades.
(Photo: Air Force)