Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Perforating aircraft wings with minute holes could make for more efficient flying


One way to make aeroplanes fly more efficiently is to drill millions of tiny holes in the leading edges of the wings. Like the dimples on a golf ball this has the effect of reducing drag. However, producing these holes on a manufacturing scale is not yet commercially feasible.

Researchers at Heriot-Watt University, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and the aerospace company BAE SYSTEMS, have carried out a series of fundamental studies on drilling such holes using laser beams. The results of the work are being assessed by BAE SYSTEMS to determine whether the airflow characteristics of holes produced in this way are suitable.

Dr Duncan Hand is a member of the research team. “It’s been known for a long time that arrays of millions of holes, 50 or 60 micrometres in diameter, on the leading edge of aircraft wings can improve the air flow characteristics around the wing,” he says. “But there’s been no cost-effective way of producing these holes accurately, quickly and cheaply – it is important to justify the increased manufacturing costs against any improvement in the aircraft’s efficiency.”

While conventional mechanical drilling techniques are insufficiently accurate and too slow for holes of this size and in these numbers, using lasers to drill the holes might be a feasible option. Here the energy of the laser melts or vaporises the metal, leaving a hole. By splitting the laser beam it would be possible to drill many holes simultaneously.

“If laser drilling is to be considered it’s necessary to know what sort of laser pulse is best, how much energy is needed, what are the most appropriate conditions – all these factors are important,” says Dr Hand.

The Heriot-Watt team has been examining two ways of laser drilling. One is using the laser in a ‘long pulse’ mode, where the pulse of laser energy lasts for around a millisecond. The other is a ‘short pulse’ mode, where the laser pulses are in the range of nanoseconds.

“For the short pulse mode you need many pulses to drill the hole, whereas for the longer pulse mode you only need a single pulse,” says Dr Hand. “While the shorter pulses produce holes which have more geometric uniformity, they take longer to drill. We also found that because the short pulses have a very high peak power, they tend to ionise the gases they come into contact with – both the air layer on the surface of the material and the vaporised metal.” This ionised gas, or plasma, can block a significant proportion of the laser energy.

The main issue with drilling with the longer pulse lasers is that the holes are less uniform. “There is a lot of interest in the variability of geometry of the holes,” says Dr Hand. “We have found that you can control certain parameters in the process to minimise the variability between holes, but there will always be an intrinsic variability. The main question is whether this variability is acceptable. That is something which is now being assessed.”

Jane Reck | alphagalileo

More articles from Transportation and Logistics:

nachricht Bremen University students reach the final at robotics competition with parcel delivery robot
19.10.2016 | BIBA - Bremer Institut für Produktion und Logistik

nachricht Discovering electric mobility in a playful way
18.08.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation IAO

All articles from Transportation and Logistics >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>