Scientists at Manchester University are working towards developing a new graphene-coated aeroplane. They believe it will allow planes to fly higher, use less fuel and even protect them from lighting strikes. To test these ideas, the scientists have been working with aviation experts at Prestonâs University of Central Lancashire and have create a drone-sized prototype.
The 3m wide unmanned aircraft, which is covered in graphene, will be shown off for the first time at Farnborough Air Show this weekend. Nicknamed Prospero, the aircraft will show off the remarkable properties of graphene - and potentially pave the way for it becoming commonly used in commercial aircraft.According to aviation specialists, the ultra-conductive covering could prevent a planeâs wings from overheating - as well as protecting it from potential damage caused by lighting storms. Work from Rice University shows that a thin coating of graphene nanoribbons in epoxy has proven effective at melting ice on a helicopter blade.
The researchers said that âThrough the data collected from those initial flights our research has now moved on to the next level by developing processes of infusing graphene into composite structures. This newly skinned wing, produced by our industrial partners Haydale Composite Solutions, is enabling us to test the structural and weight saving benefits of graphene."
The research team is still in the early stages of flight testing with the new remotely piloted aircraft but initial test data is said to be very encouraging. In terms of impact resistance the new wing is showing increased levels of impact resistance of up to 60% over a conventionally-skinned carbon fibre wing.
In September 2015, a research partnership between the University of Central Lancashireâs College of Science and Technology and Civic Drone Center, and the University of Manchesterâs National Graphene Institute yielded a graphene-enhanced UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle).