The aircraft – Prospero – is a drone. It was constructed to test out the properties of graphene with the long-term aim of constructing a new range of aircraft, including those, one day, of carrying people.
Prospero has been successfully tested at the Farnborough International Air Show, as an example of how graphene can be adopted by the aerospace sector. Graphene is the material that is set to change the world. It possesses many remarkable properties: a two-dimensional form of carbon that is very strong, lightweight, conductive and transparent. In relation to aircraft (as well as other vehicles) graphene can be used as a nano-additive within thermoplastics to improve mechanical properties of a material and, at the same time, reducing the material weight.
The results were impressive on the test flight, with graphene contributing to overall performance
through the material being both lightweight and flexible. In terms of impact resistance, the new wing showed increased levels of impact resistance of up to 60 percent when compared to a conventionally-skinned carbon fiber wing.
The test flight showed how graphene helps to reduce drag and aids thermal management, factors which can boost efficiency and lower costs (through energy reduction.)
Discussing the success, James Baker, who is the Graphene Business Director at the National Graphene Institute (part of the University of Manchester), outlined the next phase of the project
: "we will launch a drone with graphene- polypropylene propeller blades that shows improvement in both mechanical and thermal properties."
In addition to the test flight, Prospero has been exhibited at Composites Europe in Düsseldorf, Germany during November and December, 2016.
In a related development
a different team of scientists are looking at graphene reinforced aluminium matrix nanocomposites. This is seen as the basis for building a new generation of aircraft. The new material would be used for certain parts of an aeroplane, with the aim of them being lighter, stronger and more conductive compared with existing materials.