The first plane was invented in 1903 by Wilbur and Orville Wright, but we’ve come a long way since then. Each decade, new technology and innovative ways of thinking has made our world’s aircraft safer, more efficient, and better for the environment.
Today, our rapid technological advancements across every industry mean these advancements in aerospace technology are happening at a faster rate than ever before. While there are dozens of exciting advancements on the horizon, here are a few I find especially exciting.
Layers of ice can build up on an aircraft’s propellers and wings when it flies through a cloud in cold weather. This has the potential to cause fatal accidents. The conventional system to mitigate this problem requires a great deal of maintenance and adds weight to the aircraft.
A research team from the UK’s Queen’s University Belfast is developing a new, innovative anti-icing system. It is essentially a lightweight heater created from a “web” of CNT (carbon nanotubes), used for deicing. Each layer of CNT is 1/2000 the thickness of a human hair. Over the next few years, the team will further be developing this system.
Aircraft Powered by Ion Wind
Researchers from MIT developed an aircraft that is powered by ionic wind (aka electro-aerodynamic thrust). The aircraft has no propellers, fans, or other moving parts in its propulsion system. In comparison to conventional aircraft, this new design is quieter and offers a more simple mechanical design. Another benefit: It doesn’t emit combustion emissions.
Although ionic wind was first identified in the 1920s, this is the first aircraft of its kind, with the potential to radiate more innovative developments in years to come.
According to one report, the 3D printing (aka additive manufacturing) market is expecting a compound annual growth rate of nearly 56% between 2016 and 2020. Through 3D printing, the overall aircraft weight can be reduced while increasing overall construction efficiency and potential for customization.
Etihad Airways is currently pursuing aircraft interiors created via 3D printing, and more of the world’s biggest aerospace companies are using additive manufacturing for maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO). The lifespan of an aircraft is typically 20-30 years, so MRO is a big business that can significantly benefit from new technology.
Beyond these three innovations, we’re also seeing developments in aircraft design, navigation systems, operations, etc. From manufacturing to the customer experience on commercial flights, technology like artificial intelligence is opening new doors for the future.