Composites: Tokyo air crash saviour?
Many readers may have seen recent footage of a Japan Airlines Airbus A350 careering down a runway on fire with smoke pouring out from its fuselage after colliding with another, smaller aircraft shortly after landing at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. Within minutes the passenger jet was ablaze and consumed by flames.

The unlikely hero: composites (Photo: Pexels/Madison Inouye)

The accident, caught on multiple cameras, was devastating, but incredibly all 379 passengers and crew escaped with no serious injuries. Sadly, six of the seven people aboard the smaller aircraft died, but that a terrible situation did not become significantly worse is nothing short of a miracle. Many praised the calmness of both the crew and passengers, but crucial to their survival was said to be the material making up over half of the aircraft: composites. Airbus noted that the resin-filler combination offers as much fire resistance as aluminium, and Emilie Greenhalgh, professor of composite materials at Imperial College London, told the Financial Times that while composites can burn at lower temperatures than the 600°C required to melt that lightweight metal, they react differently to fire, forming a “char” layer that acts as a barrier against progression of the flames. 

So, while the plane was the first A350 to crash, and the first made with significant amounts of composites to be destroyed by fire, it was those same materials that played a vital part in averting what could have been a much greater tragedy.
12.01.2024 [254343-0]
Published on 12.01.2024

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