It’s one of those inventions that make you ask: “Who had the brains to think this up?” That question refers to a type of unprecedented material – metallic in nature – that can be used in the construction of virtually any type of aircraft. The kicker comes when you realize this metal is almost 100% air – 99.99% to be exact!
Materials and technologies are being developed that will permit aircraft to be as light-weight as possible; and this gem of a product will, most likely, take the lead when it comes to creating lighter-weight commercial airliners, military jets and rockets.
Thanks to a team of ‘Einsteins’ from HRL Laboratories which is owned by Boeing, this material, known as ‘Micro-lattice’, will pave the way for aircraft of the future to travel much faster due to less weight as well as save on fuel consumption, and be more eco-friendly. Micro-lattice is 100 times lighter than Styrofoam, and has been deemed the strongest and lightest metal known to man. It is so light, a 3X3 inch piece can be positioned on top of a fluffy dandelion without falling. It’s not that the dandelion is holding it up; it is, rather, that the metal is so inconsequential, weight-wise, the dandelion’s delicate structure is not affected – at all! Imagine, a metal component made up of inter-connected hollow tubes, with the wall thickness of each tube being 1,000 times thinner than a human hair!
Combining the Best of Both Worlds
The 3-D, open-cellular, honeycomb-like structuring of Micro-lattice is key – extremely tough metal foam on the outside that is resilient against compression, while ultra-light and airy on the inside. A palm-sized piece of this incredible metal can be placed in the palm of your hand and you would be able to blow it away with a slightly-forced exhale. At this point, the Micro-lattice would gracefully float to the floor as if it hadn’t a care in the world.
To add more clarity to the ‘toughness + delicateness’ scenario, imagine dropping an uncooked egg off a 25-story high-rise and having it hit the concrete without any breakage – that’s right, no breakage, not even a crack! This becomes an astonishing reality when an egg is wrapped in Micro-lattice and allowed to free-fall from heights no unprotected egg would be able to withstand. This is possible since Micro-lattice is not only incredibly lightweight and massively strong; but it has the power to absorb extreme degrees of energy produced by impact.
Applying Micro-lattice with Aircraft Design
Boeing is investigating how to use Micro-lattice metal in various sections of airplanes, including floor and wall panels as well as seat frames. Other application ideas are in the works where Micro-lattice can be effectively utilized with other aircraft components that deal with structural reinforcement, shock and vibration absorption and heat transfer. As far as structural reinforcement is concerned, Boeing tells us that Micro-lattice shows exciting promise for usage on, both, the outside on the hull of the aircraft as well as inside in the fuselage.
Yes, Micro-lattice has the potential to revolutionize the building of planes; and though this metal was unveiled to the public in 2011, Boeing – a mega airline and defense company – is continuing to work feverishly to perfect this material and let it perform its wonders in the real world or aeronautics.