Watch this introduction to nanotechnologies in aircraft by Russ Maguire of Boeing (KTCS9, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJZ7Q08fKbw).

When discussing the availability of precious metals to support technologies in future aviation, one must first qualify two aspects: what applications in the aviation industry of 2030 will require precious metals, and what precious metals compose the greatest source of applicability to the technologies of 2030 and aviation? To answer these questions one must ‍requisitely‍ determine, or speculate, what technologies will define the future of aviation?
Aviation has evolved tremendously in the last few decades. Most significantly are the innovations relating to the “digital cockpit” and the explosion of processed information coupled with automation. Additionally, the complex materials being employed in new composites used throughout the aircraft, especially in structural members and aircraft surfaces. ‍The applications of precious metals and composites are unlimited except by the imagination and the availability of funding for research and development. ‍However, current trends indicate that some applications are consuming these precious materials at an alarming rate.
Advances in composite materials have also led to advances in the ways aluminum is used. There are metal matrix composite (MMC) materials from aluminum reinforced with high-strength, high-stiffness ceramic fibers to form an aluminum matrix composite with high strength and high stiffness at elevated temperatures (http://www.metpreg.com/). By taking aluminum alloys to the composite region of material science, new materials are evolving which could alleviate some the most difficult engineering dilemmas facing the aerospace industry.
In the middle and late 1980s, the development of indium phosphide semiconductors and indium tin oxide thin films for liquid crystal displays (LCD) aroused much interest (Jorgenson & George, 2004). The thin-film application had become the largest end use. This use of indium tin oxide in liquid crystal displays continues to increase most notably in the mobile technology realm. However, its application is proliferating in the digital cockpit arena. Indium is produced mainly from residues generated during zinc ore processing but is also found in iron, lead, and copper ores. China is a leading producer of indium. The lack of indium mineral deposits and the fact that indium is enriched in sulfidic lead, tin, copper, iron and predominately in zinc deposits, makes zinc production the main source for indium. The indium is leached from slag and dust of zinc production. Further purification is done by electrolysis (Schwarz, et. al., 2002).

This expanded use of processed information and automation has had collateral developments in the modernized cockpits, and presents a path forward for future cockpits. As the machine becomes ever more complex, integrating autonomous automation integrating aircraft control and navigation with the complex administration of air traffic management, the machine-man interface will necessarily become more demanding. The cockpit visionaries predict a more intuitive array of touch screens, allowing the pilot to manage the aircraft in lieu of flying the aircraft. However, these touch screen arrays require sophisticated engineering and use valuable limited resources like indium. Ongoing research is seeking alternative methods and materials for this scarce resource. Thin films made with carbon nanotubes are currently being investigated at UCLA (Marquit, 2009). “Finding transparent metals, which are ideal materials for use in such technologies as touch screens and solar cells, is not easy. Indium tin oxide, ITO, is predominantly used; however, ITO is rather brittle and the indium used in the alloy is becoming scarce. Scientists have discovered that films of carbon ‍nanotubes‍ are conductive and sufficiently transparent in the visible range, offering the potential to replace indium tin oxide.

Nanotechnology has hopeful applications in other areas of future aviation. Research into nanotechnology devices for aeronautics applications must investigate the bonding of dissimilar materials, material properties, and scaling. The future aviation industry would greatly benefit from any technology that improved the ability to bond dissimilar materials (NRC, 2003).
Nanotechnology may lead to the development of new structural materials with high strength-to-weight ratios and fracture toughness, durable coatings, greater resistance to corrosion, self-healing, and multifunctional characteristics. Structural materials might have embedded sensors and actuators; custom-designed properties, such as electrical conductivity, mechanical strength, magnetic behavior, and optical properties; or improved damping properties. Self-healing materials (e.g., materials embedded with small particles of liquid that would be released and fill in cracks to prevent them from propagating) may allow flying aircraft closer to their fatigue limits, but generally the benefits of self-healing are likely to be greatly exceeded by the benefits of increased strength and reduced weight. These future perspectives on nanotechnology (an opinion of Donald Jackson and wiki editor Bill Tuccio) should be contrasted against the 3-part YouTube presentation by Russ Maguire of Boeing on nanotechnologies; a link is included in this section of the wiki.

‍The peculiarity of the properties of nanomaterials is disproportionate; nanoscale nanomaterials do not necessarily predict the properties of macroscale materials that incorporate nanomaterials. Segments of some nanotechnology fibers are about 30 times stronger than glass fibers and nano-microtubes have heat-transfer rates comparable to that of diamonds. However, more research is needed to assess the ability of nanotubes to increase the heat transfer capabilities of structural materials. The challenge is to demonstrate strength on a macroscale by combining strong nanoscale segments to form suitable matrix composite materials.
NASA affirms that researching the technologies for future aviation help the commercial aircraft of tomorrow fly significantly quieter, cleaner, and more fuel-efficiently, with more passenger comfort, and to more of America's airports. Ultramodern shape memory alloys, ceramic or fiber composites, carbon nanotube or fiber optic cabling, self-healing skin, hybrid electric engines, folding wings, double fuselages, and virtual reality windows represent just some of these developments (Bank, 2010). The NASA-led endeavor precipitated many ideas from industry and academia.
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