Let’s face it, it’s hard to get bugs off the leading edges of helicopter blades, corporate jet leading edges and aircraft tail sections. It’s the aircraft cleaner’s worst nightmare to see an aircraft sitting in the sun while all those crushed bug guts bake into the paint. Yes, in an aircraft cleaners dreams our nightmares are Bugs, Bugs and more Bugs, and yes, the occasional bird strike too, guts everywhere, that’s simply no fun. Now then, there is a new method and technology being developed which might be a god’s send for us plane washers. So, let’s discuss this shall we?
There was an interesting article in NASA Tech Briefs recently (September 2017 Issue) titled; “Aircraft Cleaning To Get Easier In The Future – Plane Washing And Debugging,” which noted:
“NASA Langley Research Center, in collaboration with ATK Space Systems, has developed a method to reduce insect adhesion on metallic substrates, polymeric materials, engineering plastics, and other surfaces. The method topographically modifies a surface using laser ablation patterning followed by chemical modification of the surface. This innovation was originally developed to enhance aircraft laminar flow by preventing insect residue buildup, but the method provides a permanent solution for any application requiring insect adhesion mitigation as well as adhesion prevention of other typical environmental contaminants.”
Although this new technology method helps the laminar airflow over the wings, blades, airfoils and control surfaces for better aircraft performance, lower stall speeds and overall safety, the benefits for the aircraft cleaning company employees is golden. It means we will use fewer chemicals to remove the bugs, thus, taking off less wax meaning no need to recoat so often. It also means less elbow grease spent debugging. Fewer man (woman) hours means more profit and less cost, all contributing to a more successful aviation services company.
When I discussed this with the researchers, they’d never considered the benefits to aircraft cleaning companies, which quite frankly surprised me, as it is a huge problem. Scraping bugs also means removing a little paint coating each time, eventually costing the aircraft owner in expensive repaints or touch ups on the leading edges of all surfaces. My questions to all this is how tough is this new method? The researchers assured me it is just as tough as the paint surfaces, if not better, than most aircraft use now, perhaps much longer lasting too.
What other applications would this technology be good for? How about Wind Turbine Blades, allowing less frequency of cleaning, or how about bullet trains allowing for better airflow lessening wind resistance which at the higher speeds really matters as the coefficient of drag curve starts to head vertical. Think on this, especially if cleaning off bug guts is something that really bugs you as much as it does me.