Aircraft of Tomorrow

Last year, NASCAR debuted the car of tomorrow (COT) in its Sprint Cup series (then known as Nextel Cup). The racing organization scheduled a handful of races that the new cars would race in, and the teams prepared for racing the new car. At first they didn’t know what to expect. How would the car handle? How could they take advantage of adjustments to gain an advantage over the competition? How durable would it be? How safe?

This year, NASCAR made the decision to switch over to the COT full time. The COT (now dubbed the car of today) runs in all Sprint Cup races. The teams are learning more and more about the car as each week goes by. Team owners have invested a lot of money to ensure their crew chiefs and their maintenance department have all of the tools and equipment necessary to maintain the cars to the top standards their drivers have come to expect.

Composite aircraft are setting the stage to be the aircraft of tomorrow. Aircraft manufacturers are incorporating more composites into their designs. They are achieving the same strengths with composite aircraft as with aluminum-constructed ones while enjoying benefits of reduced weight and faster production times.

But along with those advantages comes some disadvantages. Composite structure is more suscepible to hidden damage. A small tool dropped on the surface of a composite wing may not cause any visible damage, but could cause delamination several plies down. Oils and solvents can damage unprotected composite structure. Composite repairs are much more technical than sheet metal repairs.

Maintenance companies are seeing more and more composite aircraft and components come through their doors. Are you prepared? Is your maintenance team ready to handle the changes associated with inspecting and maintaining the aircraft of tomorrow?

Speaking of composites, this month’s feature, “Margin for Error: Zero,” is written by Greg Mellema, a composites instructor for Reno, NV-based Abaris. Click to here to learn more about repairing composite helicoptor rotor blades.

Thanks for reading!